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Journal Articles Milbank Quarterly Year : 2019

Private Health Insurance in France: Between Europeanization and Collectivization


Context: In France, private health insurance (PHI) has an exceptionally high level of coverage and accounts for 13.7% of health expenditures. A complementary and voluntary scheme, it has been historically dominated by nonprofit, mutual benefit societies. Over the past 20 years, however, the market share of for-profit insurance companies has increased by 47%. Financialization of the field developed, and competition based on new risk management strategies also increased. The broad aim of this paper is to characterize and to elucidate the causes of this trend. More specifically, we are interested in how and to what extent a series of supranational and national policies contributed to this situation.Method: Our data come from three sources. We first reviewed documents published by health insurers, government reports, and newspaper articles. We then conducted two semistructured interview campaigns between September 2017 and May 2018. The first mostly covered private and public actors and their involvement in European Union (EU) policymaking (n=21). The second series of interviews was conducted with another group of actors directly involved at the French level (n = 16).Findings: Our findings support preliminary observations. PHI in France, we argue, is indeed facing a development of competition and market-like instruments. Four major policies (two EU directives and two national reforms) played a significant role in this outcome. Surprisingly, however, it has never been the purpose of legislators and policymakers: while EU directives created a regulatory framework for insurance activities within the Single Market, policies adopted at the national level initially aimed at improving health coverage. We show that it is the interactions and the noncoordination among all of these policies that explain their unexpected outcome.Conclusions: The trend described in this paper is twofold. The first is Europeanization, as PHI in France is increasingly affected by EU legislation. Since this framework tends to favor larger firms and for-profit companies, a reduction in statutory coverage can no longer be considered a quasi-neutral transfer from (publicly owned) social security to nonprofit providers. At the same time, PHI is shifting toward collectivization: as competition increases, complementary health coverage is becoming gradually standardized and based at the corporate level. Together, these changes are likely to reduce freedom of choice and individual welfare, an assumption supported by studies published on the most recent period.

Dates and versions

hal-02356386 , version 1 (08-11-2019)



Cyril Benoît, Gaël Coron. Private Health Insurance in France: Between Europeanization and Collectivization. Milbank Quarterly, 2019, 97 (4), pp.1108-1150. ⟨10.1111/1468-0009.12420⟩. ⟨hal-02356386⟩
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