In this post I will visit some observations related to healthcare. These observations are strictly based on my experiences in Chiriqui. Being a Warden for the U.S. Embassy and visiting U.S. Citizens in the local hospitals, I see some things that others never see.
Things will be a little different in Panama City. There will be more healthcare options there, but most of the options will also carry a higher price tag.
If you are considering Panama because of the rising healthcare costs in the U.S. Then in many cases you may not find any improvement in Panama. Healthcare is sort of a mixed bag. This is one area when it is very good to have Panamanian friends to help advise you on the doctors to chose and use or not choose and avoid. It is also a good idea to get references from foreigners as well, because those may be different than locals. It will be up to you to determine who to believe.
The capability of the healthcare system in Panama is pretty high. However costs are getting higher and the increase of foreigners coming to Panama with insurance plans are helping the price to increase. If you chose the wrong doctor you may be viewed more as a dollar sign than a patient.
This is not a general statement of all doctors, but there are more falling into that category every day. This is why you need to an experience base of other users to know which doctors to use and which ones not to use.
I find general healthcare to be reasonably priced. If you have a cold, break an arm, need lab work done, or have a physical then you should be pretty happy with the prices. You can go to many general practitioners for about a $6 office visit. That is the same if you use the doctor on call in Chiriqui Hospital. I also find that dental and eye care are reasonable compared to the U.S. A specialist will be around $30 for an office visit and you may have to wait a couple hours to see the doctor. That is better than the U.S. Where you may have to get an appointment a couple weeks latter.
It is when you get into the area of needing an operation that things can start getting dicey. While the capability of doing most operations should be adequate, the costs may not be much better than those in the U.S. If you have no insurance, it may be worse. Medicare is not accepted in Panama.
I will give you a recent example. One of the U.S. Citizens I have gotten involved with is currently in the Regional hospital. He has a colonoscopy in the Chiriqui Hospital that discovered a couple problem areas. He underwent surgery which resulted in a temporary external bag until the surgery healed. He was in the Chiriqui Hospital for less than a week when it was decided that he should be transferred to the Regional hospital to have reduced costs. His short stay plus surgery was around $26,000.
One of the expenses is a hyperalimentation intravenous feeding that is needed since he can’t have solid food until his colon heals and the external bag is removed. My understanding is that he was told the feeding would be $1,500 a day in Chiriqui Hospital and $500 a day in the Regional Hospital. He has been in the Regional hospital for over a month now without a clear understanding of when he should expect the next operation to get him on solid foods.
Let me tell you, being in the Regional hospital for over a week is a test of one’s nerves and a month can drive one crazy. He is now wondering if it is possible to get transferred to a U.S. Hospital, but that is a little tricky because of his condition and being hooked up to intravenous feeding. Had he spent the money to go to the U.S. to do the original surgery, he would most likely have recovered by now. That is my opinion, not one based on anything other than watching how things go here.
He wanted to get transferred out of the Regional Hospital to the Mae Lewis Hospital and Mae Lewis wanted a $50,000 deposit before they would accept him.
I have had people tell me that, in the last five years, healthcare costs have increased five fold in Chiriqui. I have nothing to back that up, but I know things have gotten much more expensive
Now to complicate things more, you have to consider where you live and the location’s effect on your potential healthcare needs. For general care you can probably get reasonable care in Boquete, David, Bugaba and Volcan. However if you have a serious problem, such as a stroke or heart attack or a bad car accident, you will most likely have to come to David for immediate treatment. In some cases, it may be recommended that you go to Panama City. My understanding is that a detached retina cannot be taken care of outside of Panama City.
If you happen to have this need for treatment during one of the times when a protest is going on and the roads are being blocked to all traffic you may not be able to get to David, let alone to Panama City. If you are in Boquete or Volcan or in a more rural area, late at night during the rainy season, getting to a hospital without a protest going on will be a challenge.
All of these considerations are things you need to add to your list when making your decision to move to Panama. General expenses of living are one thing, but the price of staying alive is another.
Having Panamanian friends cannot be over emphasized. One recent case I know of was a gringo who was attacked and stabbed several times in the chest. His next door neighbors found him and got him to the hospital and stayed by his side in the hospital until he had recovered and was released. I do not think I have met a gringo that would spend the night in the Regional hospital caring for a friend. If you have ever been in the Regional hospital, you will know what I am talking about.
If you are planning on moving to Panama and have a health condition, evaluate your move very carefully. Insurance in Panama is just as necessary here as it is in the U.S. You may think that you will come and take advantage of the normal healthcare needs at a cheaper rate and return to the U.S. for a critical operation, but the question is will you be able to get back to the U.S. In time? Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?
Hindsight is 20/20, but there are some things where you can’t wait for hindsight.
I have just scratched the surface of this topic. I could write pages, but this should stir up enough concerns and I am certain that some comments will add to the picture.