In its annual report published last week, the French ministry of health calculated that the overall health expenses in the country reached a total of €208 billion last year, an increase of 2.1 percent from 2018. The ministry also announced that the average “reste à charge” - the share of this amount directly paid by French consumers after social security and mutual health insurances’ refunds - went down below 7 percent. The national social security and health insurances covered 78.2 percent and 13.4 percent of the total costs respectively.

The report also shows that overall expenses for medical eye care in France grew by 5.6 percent in 2019 as compared to 2018, amounting to €6.75 billion. Most of the growth was fueled by a 5.2 percent increase in volume, while average prices inched up by 0.4 percent.

Optical goods is the health care category with the highest “reste à charge” for French consumers who paid 22.3 percent of the cost directly from their pocket last year, a 1.6 percentage point hike from 2018. Mutual insurance companies continued to cover the bulk of optical expenses in 2019, their share decreasing very slightly to 72.7 percent. The five remaining percent were covered by the French social security.

The share of the optical cost shouldered by mutual insurance companies has been growing steadily in the last years, going from 60 percent in 2010 to the current 72.7 percent. However, this should change in 2020 with the new health care reform that was introduced on Jan. 1. It is expected that the share of optical costs supported by French consumers and the national social security will rise and that mutual insurances will spend less this year.

It was also expected that the reform would somewhat stimulate the market by bringing in consumers that would have otherwise left their eyesight unchecked or waited another year to renew their equipment. Preliminary governmental figures for January and February 2020 indeed showed that 17.7 percent of glasses refunded by the social security were picked from the so-called “100% Santé” range, a selection of products with no cost for consumers. It is however likely that the positive early momentum will be slowed down by the impact of the Covid crisis.