The French health system is over all pretty excellent. No long waits to see people and for the most part it seems quite a good deal for appointments and medications. As a language assistant I automatically got some health cover since I was paying taxes. In addition I could have gotten a mutuelle which covers most of the rest of the costs for appointments and things. A mutuelle costs 20€ per month and you get three months free with MGEN (the mutuelle aimed at the education sector). So it’s a pretty good deal. I didn’t get that because I didn’t need that level of cover since I had health insurance through my travel insurance.
In France medical people are split into three tiers, and the amount you pay differs by tier. General Practitioners are in the first tier. A GP appointment costs 23€ which you can pay in cash (or cheque) only. 6€ gets refunded to your bank account and if you have mutuelle you get an additional 16€, thus the appointment costs 1€!!!
To get the 6€ refunded you either have to fill out and send some paperwork which the doctor will give you after you hand over your French social security number OR it is automatic if you have a Carte Vitale.
The Carte Vitale is a card with your personal details that language assistants are entitled to get which is attached to your social security number and bank account. It’s very helpful (so yes, the French bureaucracy is improving – slightly).
If you have a medical condition my main piece of advice would be to get friendly with the MGEN in town. You can choose a different mutuelle provider but I don’t know why you would. For the MGEN office I visited, you didn’t need an appointment, you could just drop in. You can find the address of your closest office online.
They can also get you an European health card which gives you access to all European health services as if you were French. So if you’re in holiday in Spain and need to go to hospital they have a reciprocal system and you get free healthcare.
As for prescriptions, doctors can often prescribe exactly what you need and got in your home country. The French are highly over medicated so pharmacies in Francs are excellent. And they are found everywhere! A block of shops will definitely have a pharmacy and a boulangerie. The medications are also either free, or an excellent price. You can bring along the box to your GP appointment and they should be able to prescribe you what you need.