No talk about the cost of living should exclude the topic of healthcare and planning for it. I have no problem with publications saying that healthcare is cheaper in Panama than the US, however, comparisons in quality are seldom mentioned.
If you live in Chiriquí, where I live, there are two reasonably large private hospitals. There are other private clinics and there are public clinics and hospitals. The availability of having places to go is not the problem. It is what is going to happen once you get there.
I volunteer as a Warden for the U.S. Embassy representing the David, Chiriqui area. This puts me in touch with many cases, usually at the public Regional Hospital (The Social Security Hospital).
That is because most accidents or other serious emergency cases are either taken there immediately or sent there when they are refused admittance at a private hospital.
Another reason is that the Regional Hospital has the largest “Blood Bank”. I put that in quotes because there is always more need for blood than is available. There are a couple sources that maintain lists of donors, but sometimes it is a touch and go situation.
One current Embassy case was a result of minors breaking into a house and shooting the owner. Neighbors brought the victim to David, because 911 was taking too long. Upon going to the private hospital, they were told they would have to go to the Regional Hospital because there was no blood at the private hospital.
Luckily, the driver had the correct blood type and the surgeon agreed to accept the patient if blood was donated. I think that the victim has a good chance of not being alive, had the circumstances not played out like they did. The driver also had to put several thousand dollars on his credit card as initial payment.
I have had other comments come into my blog (Chiriquí Chatter) lately about people being rushed to the other private hospital having a heart attack or other problem and not being admitted until their credit card paid $4,000. Without the initial payment, the patient would have been shipped to the public hospital.
No one moves here thinking they are going to need to be hospitalized. There are accidents that happen everyday and you may not have caused the accident, but you may be the one needing major surgery.
As you can see, there had better be a plan ahead of time to cover such a situation. Even a planned excursion to Panama to check it out for a retirement home should include a plan for an emergency.
I have another Embassy case that is in play that shows another potential problem. An individual came here with the plan of retiring. I think there was enough Social Security funds to meet the Jubilado requirements. That was a year ago.
I got a call from the individual asking for help. I was told that the lawyer had taken $1,600 up front and the Jubilado Card had still not been obtained. During that time the individual was a 6 month border hops to keep the passport visa up to date.
I told the individual that there was nothing I or the Embassy could do. The Panama government decides if a person gets the card or not. Some lawyers are good and some just take money. Sometimes the same lawyer can viewed by different people either way.
To complicate the situation, this individual fell victim to a stroke recently. The individual’s Panama Visa has expired and now the individual is illegal in Panama.
While the monthly Social Security was plenty to pay for food and lodging when healthy, it is not sufficient with medical needs.
I sometimes get chastised for warning people to think twice about moving to Panama without a healthcare plan. Sometimes I am told that I should lighten up and let people come and enjoy their retirement years.
Well, I have been on the end of helping families arrange cremations and body transportations because there was no plan.
I have loved my 12 1/2+ years here. Panama has certainly lost much of the Cost of Living advantages of the past, but I still enjoy the pace of life. I love the people. I love the climate.
I recently saw a discussion going on related to Cost of Living and thought it was time to remind people to include healthcare costs and insurance into the equation. It is a large part of my budget and one I would like to reduce. Unfortunately, at my age, options are few.
I apologize for being a party pooper.