Well, this is a fine situation. I'm not sure how it happened but I apparently have no health insurance here right now.
Just before we left for Canada I received an urgent note from the cancer clinic saying that they needed an attestation, a piece of paper that confirms that I am indeed covered by the French national health insurance. I found that odd because in 2012 I was accorded something called the 100% which covers my care through my cancer treatment (five years).
My spouse was in the neighborhood of the social security center so he went and asked for the document and they replied that we should just go into ameli (a website for the insured where you can do basic stuff like payment info and address changes) and download it. Well, we tried and the darn system said, "Sorry, no can do. Come down and see us."
So on the way back from church and my weekly visit with Madame G I stopped by to see what was up.
After giving the lady at the counter my insurance card and the note from the clinic, she consulted my account.
"You have no rights!" she said. And I said, "What?
And then we tried to figure out what happened. Do you work? said she. No, I replied. Are you getting unemployment? No. What are you doing then? Uh, living?
I swear that the woman was more upset than I was. At one point I said, "C'est pas grave." (It's not a big deal) and she shot back, "Oh, yes it is, Madame."
Here's the deal. I was covered for two years after I took myself off unemployment at which point I should have gone down and had myself added under my spouse's social security number. I didn't know, there wasn't any notification and so they just cut me off.
All fixable. She gave me a form (isn't there always a form?) and a list of documents to gather and bring back to them and then they'll work their magic so I will be insured again. I thanked her profusely for her kindness and went home and had coffee on my back porch.
Another bit of business to add to the already very heavy load of paperwork to be done this month. For those of you not in the know June 15 is the date for Americans abroad to either file their US taxes or ask for an extension. June 30, of course, is the date to file those loathsome FBAR's (Foreign Bank Account Reports).
The French taxes have already been filed. All on-line and the few questions we had were ably answered by a nice gentleman at the local tax office.
Looking at all this I find it interesting that on the French side none of this administrative stuff stresses me out. Systems and procedures are not always well-designed but there is access to real live competent human beings when there is an issue. Above all, is the sense that they are on my side. They want me to be insured and they want me to pay my taxes (and, yes, I do see the connection between the two). And there are people available to help to make both of those things happen.
On the American side is, well, not much trust at all. Just a lot of stress when I look at the arcane language of the documents designed to "help"; a certain frustration with systems that don't work very well (I had to contact tech support via email last year for the on-line FBAR); and above all precious few human beings to talk to if something does go wrong. Not the fault of the US government agencies, by the way, but of their political overlords who seem to think that handing them major legislation to implement and then starving them for funds will have some sort of beneficial outcome. How they think they can square that circle is beyond me.
I don't like to make comparisons between my home and host country - it is unfair because different doesn't mean better. It's entirely possible to have divergent means to reach similar objectives. But I have this uneasy feeling that efficient delivery of public services by dedicated, independent, and competent people (folks mandated to do their very best to help their fellow citizens navigate the systems that lawmakers have made) has been under attack for some time now and we are now in a vicious circle where because there are limited funds, service is poor; and so the average American is left wondering why he should pay taxes at all.
I find it rather ironic that here I am in France - a legal resident but not a citizen - and I have more faith and trust in the French bureaucracy then I do in that of my native country. Yes, I have had bad experiences with bureaucrats here but overall it's been rather good and yesterday's experience was one exemplary example.
Ronald Reagan once said, "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." A rather broad indictment that is subject to diverse interpretations. Let me be very unkind here and note that he said "English language" which implies that it is Anglo-Saxons who are simply incompetent (or have evil motives) when it comes to government.
Rubbish, I say.