Know Your Options for Healthcare in Mexico

Let’s face it, many of we expats who are thinking about retiring in Mexico are at the point where the decisions we make are based on different criteria than when we were a lot younger. It all comes down to some basic questions like: is there a hospital within 2 minutes of my home, do I know how to dial 911, and is my name and emergency contact information attached to the back of my shirt??  Okay, okay, it’s not that bad but clearly health care in a foreign country raises some questions for all of us. So to ease your mind here are four possible solutions to consider. All prices are in pesos unless otherwise indicated.

Option 1: Seguro Popular
If you have a temporary or permanent resident card you are eligible for the basic federal health plan called Seguro Popular. This is basic insurance similar to the American Medicare coverage and the rate is based on your economic status. Rates can be anywhere from around $1200 to $2000 per year per person. Seguro Popular recently built the large, new Salvatierra Hospital in La Paz and there are hospitals in other areas of Baja California Sur.

Many foreigners opt to sign up for Seguro Popular as a safety net type of insurance because it’s very inexpensive. Wait times to see specialists can be longer but you can always elect to pay out of pocket. A typical specialist visit is likely to cost $300 - $600.

To apply for Seguro Popular you need to have either temporary or permanent residency status and provide copies of:

  • Proof of address (recent utility bill)
  • Official Mexican government photo ID (as of 2018 your Temporary or Permanent Residency card is not admissible but a Mexican driver’s license or INAPAM seniors card are accepted)
  • CURP certificate (Clave Unica de Registro de Poblacion)

If you qualify and have all your ducks in a row the agent will give you a “bill” which you then take to the bank and pre-pay. When you return with the paid receipt you will be issued your policy.

If you need a quick consult appointment there are many pharmacies with consulting doctors in-house that some refer to as “doc in a box”. For a few dollars you can get your questions answered and pick up any recommended medications at the same time. Many drugs in Mexico do not require a prescription.

Option 2: IMSS
The other public health plan option is IMSS which is a step above Seguro Popular. Legal foreign residents are eligible and annual rates for one individual aged 60-69 are $10,350 as of March 2019. Current rates can be found here. In addition to the documents listed for Seguro Popular you will also need your current passport and two photographs plus a check-up by one of their physicians. IMSS hospitals are situated in all major centers.

Things to Consider
Note that neither Seguro Popular nor IMSS health plans cover some pre-existing conditions and there can be a wait period for treatment for others. Neither plan covers eye care, dental, elective surgeries (e.g. plastic surgery, weight loss measures), infertility treatments, or treatments for self-inflicted injuries. And just because you are staying in a hospital does not mean that the hospital pharmacy will necessarily stock the medications your doctor prescribes. In some cases you have to arrange for someone to go to an outside pharmacy and purchase what you need.

Coverage does not include medical evacuation from Mexico.

Another aspect to these health care plans is that you are expected to provide your own support in the hospital such as a friend or family member. Essentially they are there to provide support and bring amenities as needed. In non-emergency cases you will be expected to have this support in place before being admitted.

If you don’t speak Spanish keep in mind that you will likely need a translator as the staff may not speak fluent English.

Option 3: Private Health Insurance
If you can afford it, there are a number of insurance companies that will give you access to 5 star hospitals and treatment. You are far more likely to get English speaking care and it doesn’t necessarily cost a lot more than going through IMSS for what you get and is available to most people staying in Mexico. In many cases you can apply online or visit a broker’s office. Some common agencies are AXA Mexico, GNP, Metlife and DVK.

Factors to consider are whether you want regional or national care, deductible, maximum insured amount, coinsurance amounts, travel insurance for accidents when you’re out of country, etc. As with all plans, pre-existing conditions and lifestyle will impact your rate and could even make you ineligible. Click here for some tips on how private insurance works in Mexico.

There are also international health insurance companies that will cover you either here or fly you “home” for treatment.

Option 4: Private Health Care - Paid out of Pocket
La Paz has several private hospitals that offer excellent medical care. Wait times for most treatment is almost non-existent. I recently needed X-rays of my neck and canvassed both the private and public hospitals and discovered that the private hospitals were actually cheaper! I walked into the reception area of The Medical Centre (the white hospital across from the purple Fidepaz Hospital) and asked if I needed an appointment. Within one minute I was ushered into the X-ray clinic and posed for my pictures. The technician then walked me back to reception and I paid the $950 for my two x-rays. By the time I got home an email had arrived with the doctor’s analysis!

I also went to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at the Fidepaz Hospital for a potential sinus infection. I was given an appointment within 24 hours and waited about 15 minutes to be seen. The charge was $500 and included any further treatment for that condition. Thankfully I didn’t have an infection, just a lot of inflammation. He wrote out a prescription for a spray, some tablets and an injection. That shocked me! When I asked why, he said that it was the fastest way to reduce the inflammation. While unconventional to me, I have to say that it did work very rapidly. I was directed to the hospital pharmacy where I purchased the items and then saw a nurse who administered the injection for $50! Sometimes you just gotta love Mexico, different as it is.

Another visit to a dermatologist for a complete body exam, 3 biopsies and lab work cost me roughly $4000. I admit it was rather strange to take my own tissue samples to the lab but you can’t knock the price!

A friend was recently diagnosed with pneumonia and required a two-day hospital stay. She went to The Medical Center and said:

“Since I didn’t have medical insurance they required a credit card to secure my stay upon arrival. Once admitted, which took very little time, I was shown to probably the largest private hospital room I will ever see. I was assigned a team of health care professionals and taken to the in-house x-ray lab. Not everyone spoke English but there was always a team member who could communicate for me. Over the course of two days I was given antibiotics by IV and felt much improved by the time I was released and fully recovered shortly after. I paid about the equivalent of $900 USD - a fraction of what it would have cost me in the US - and was very happy with the service.” - Sharon

I have also met individuals who have travelled to Guadalajara for specialized treatment that was not available in La Paz and all have had good things to say about the care they received.

There are also numerous dental care professionals that perform everything from basic dentistry to complete smile makeovers for a fraction of what you pay up north. All of the offices I’ve visited have been state-of-the-art but there are certainly other dentists with more basic equipment and lower prices. Prices vary of course but here are some of the rates I paid for services in 2019:

Dental cleaning - $600
Crown - $6000
Implant - $18,000
Panoramic dental x-ray - $500
Periodontist visit - $700

All rates in pesos unless indicated otherwise.

Written by Baja Linda for Team Olivia - Vista Properties