Figuring out your healthcare as an expat has been the biggest knot to untie in my decision to move to Mexico. Information on the basics on public Mexican healthcare, Segura Popular (free) or IMSS (around $400 a year) that many expats purchase is easy to find in expat forums and online.
The consensus seems to be that getting private insurance is the better option, particularly if you are a permanent resident, rather than count on public insurance. Generally, people cite the inefficiency and red tape rather than the quality of the care in the case of IMSS insurance versus private insurance. Doctors in Mexico are required to work part-time for IMSS so the talent pool in the same in that regard.
Private insurance is still much cheaper than in the U.S. For a healthy person of 55 or so a comprehensive plan would run around $1,400 dollars a year. You need to get on it by age 62 however, as the premiums go up considerably if entering the system after that age.
Doctors in Mexico, especially specialists and those in larger cities, are deemed first-rate, often being trained in the U.S. Mexican doctors are appreciated especially for their superior bedside manner, willing to spend the extra time with you that can be lacking in the U.S.
Folks on Medicare who live in Mexico often buy the public insurance mainly as a safety net for emergencies until they can get back to the U.S. for treatment of more serious illnesses. Other permanent residents either buy the private insurance, still much cheaper than the U.S. or buy expat insurance, the most expensive option.
Expat insurance is more expensive than Obamacare coverage and average U.S. policies, but they allow the ensured to be treated in any country (or sometimes any country other than the U.S. and Japan). Some buy expatriation riders that will ensure they are flown to wherever the best care is.
It’s common knowledge that the cost of drugs and routine tests, annual exams, MRI’s and blood tests in Mexico come in at fraction of the cost of the U.S. So much cheaper are they that many expats simply pay out of pocket than use their insurance at all.
My own recent experience with an appendectomy leaves me in some doubt about the quality of Mexican surgical care, but one experience in one ill-chosen clinic doesn’t make it the norm. I’m keeping an open mind.
For many Americans, the cost of American healthcare is a prime motivator to living in Mexico.
In the coming days, I'm going to begin my research on Mexican healthcare starting with the topic of conventional cancer care in Mexico, specifically Guadalajara, one of the three medical hubs of Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey).
One in three of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lives. The obscene cost of newer cancer drugs in the U.S. and lack of confidence many except those with the best, most expensive coverage have that their plan will be cover them makes this a good place to start.
The recent American press regarding the Republican drive to shift more costs onto consumers for their care, if enacted, will most assuredly be felt in the out-of-pocket costs of cancer treatment and other more expensive illnesses, like diabetes. Let’s face it, few of them are cheap. Heart medicines seem to be the only category with a number of less expensive drugs.
Too many people have already died for lack of coverage or poor coverage. Others have spent their entire savings and now live with the illness along with additional pallor of being poor. Fifty-percent of bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses even though most of them had health insurance when they fell ill.
In spite of these facts, many of us would rather believe that their government or insurer will come through when it comes to them, that a rabbit will be pulled out of a hat somewhere.
It’s almost impossible to tell exactly which costs will be approved by an insurer until we’re sick and someone has to ask. For example, I only have to look at the difference in cost of Retin-A (a skin cream) in one former health care plan ($15) to an earlier health care plan ($300) to extrapolate how the variances could be applied to more critical drugs.
These variations exist based on what deal the insurer can strike with the drug manufacturer. The government could probably drive a pretty hard bargain when it comes to Medicare or health plans it subsidizes. Too bad Congress doesn't yet have the stomach to take on the pharmaceutical industry and its campaign contributions.
Most of us are just living with our fingers crossed. Some will go bankrupt, others will be relieved and most of us won’t know which we’ll be until we have to actually use our coverage in a major way.
I don’t know if Mexico offers viable options for quality health care other than what I previously noted; cheaper tests, drugs and hospital visits and some exceptional hospitals in larger cities.
Since I will be researching Spanish-language websites and having to translate, the research will take longer. In the meantime, the blog will feature shorter, and more cheerful posts because really, who wants to scare themselves silly over health care every week(No question mark there because its a rhetorical question).
Ultimately though, I hope to be able to provide a series of posts to help others make better decisions about how to plan for their healthcare if they are considering living either full-or part-time in Mexico.
Mexican Cooking Sites
I didn't want to end on such a grim note. On to more cheerful subjects as related to Mexico. One of the activities that has always soothed my solitary Saturday nights as a single person, and considerably revved up my Saturday nights as part of a couple with no money has been not-completely-sober cooking.
When I was part of a couple, my ex-boyfriend and I sometimes had all the stove top burners going at once.
Several egg-timers were used concurrently to prevent disaster during our alcohol-fueled cooking adventures. The trick was remembering which egg timer belonged to which burner. I told him I feared it was a technique only one step shy of being a professional alcoholic.
If any of you women aren't familiar with Miguel Bosé, I invite you to view his video for International Women's Month, and challenge you to view it only once. Even if you don't understand a word of it in Spanish, you'll be in love.
But back to cooking (sigh). Since coming to Mexico, the difference in the availability of recipe ingredients and the fact that I am, "duh" in Mexico, has motivated me to want to learn to cook more Mexican meals.
The challenge, as I’ve stated in earlier posts, is that it’s not as easy as you’d think. A real Mexican food recipe with easily obtained Mexican ingredients most likely is in Spanish, otherwise it’s been adapted to American tastes and grocery stores.
Translating is trickier than you’d imagine too. Measurements are in the metric system and I've discovered bourbon mixes poorly with math. Sometimes an ingredient isn’t defined in a dictionary (“secreto de cerdo” anyone?).
The answer might be cooking videos. Recently, a Mexican girlfriend has posted several recipe videos from Mexican cooking websites on my Facebook page.
These are not all enchilada and taco recipes. They reflect contemporary Mexican dishes that can be distinctly different from what you have in your cookbooks at home. Once you get past the Spanish names for the dishes and watch the sped-up videos, the recipes appear to be easy to follow.
Post-note - The videos work really well! I did the Pechugas Rellenas and they were terrific!
Related (and updated) links:
(Healthcare) Washington Post on escalating cost of cancer drugs.
Someday you may see a glossy picture of me on a brochure smiling broadly from aboard a catamaran heading towards Mazatlan’s Stone Island. Until then, the picture someone really should take is of me grinning as leaving the grocery store [more...] Ventanas Mexico
Most recent: Regardless of making more book sales, I must confess that you don't have to speak Spanish to live in Mexico, especially if you follow these guidelines.
Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." She is also the author of the upcoming, "If Only I Had a Place," a guide to renting in Mexico luxuriously for aspiring expats (includes rental concierge listing).
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