Tag Archives: Healthcare

MC Update November 6

It has been about eight days since my last update.

For those just tuning in, this is a followup to THIS POST.

Let me start off by making something clear. This is a slow process. I went to the hospital yesterday morning and there were some visitors hoping to see Marion and had heard she was very much improved to the point that she might be released soon.

I had seen her the previous day, in the morning and the evening, and she was having a bad day. She was having difficulty breathing. Then, yesterday morning when I saw her, there had been no improvement. I could tell she was concerned.

I spoke with the doctor and he said they had found fluids in her lungs again. He said his plan was to drain the fluids. He called me about 1 PM yesterday and said he had talked to Marion and explained the situation. He explained the procedure to me, and said the procedure was scheduled for 3PM. Continue reading MC Update November 6

Healthcare Reality in Panama and The Cost of Living

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. Continue reading Healthcare Reality in Panama and The Cost of Living

Lilliam Had Her 6 Month Cancer Checkup

Lilliam has her 6 month checkup with Dr. Bullen today. Doctor Bullen comes from Panama City once a month. For an appointment, you can see the first post I did announcing that he was coming to David.

I had a second post when the office opened.

Dr. Bullen invited me to be in the room for Lilliam’s examination. Since her cancer was a skin cancer, he inspected all of her skin. Literally from head to toe.

When he inspected the scalp, he moved all strands of hair looking for suspicious areas. He checked the bottom of the feet. He said different areas were susceptible to different types of cancer. Some cancers much more serious than others.

While he didn’t look at 100% of her body, he probably looked at 95%.. I was impressed at how thorough he was.

Lilliam got a clean bill of health and will return for next 6 month visit. It is really nice that she can see him in David and not have to go to Panama City.

Checkup Time 2015

A couple months ago, I went to see Dra. Marta Sánchez for the annual prostrate exam.

All went well, however, this year I also needed to see an internist to get a letter stating I am in good health and qualify to get a driver’s license. In Panama, this is required every two years following your 70th birthday. Prior to 70 it costs $40 for a 4 year license, i.e $10/year. After 70 it cost $40 for a 2 year license, i.e. $20/year.

Dra. Marta had recommended Dr, Héctor R. Caballero, who is an internist as well as a specialist in diabetes. My dad had diabetes, and I had asked her if she had an internist with experience in diabetes.

When Lilliam called, to set up an appointment, the admin asked if I spoke Spanish. My name had raised the red flag of a potentially Spanish challenged client.

Lilliam said my Spanish should suffice and she would be there as well. Apparently, Dr. Caballero wasn’t taking any more patients that only spoke English because of past communication problems.

This is why all people planning on living in Panama need to learn Spanish. While you can find doctors that speak English, you will be limiting your options.

I was extremely impressed with Dr. Caballero. It may have been the most thorough exam I have had, He asked me to get a special blood test, since my sugar level is borderline. I did that yesterday and will have the results for the next visit in a couple weeks.

He did provide the required letter for the transit authority. I will get that taken care of before the end of the month.

The office visit was $50. $40 with the jubilado discount. I got the blood test at Hospital Mae Lewis, since we are there every day and no need for a special trip to Hospital Chiriqui to get the results.The blood test was around $16.

My appointment yesterday was for 1:30 PM. We were told to be a little early. We arrived at 1:00PM. We entered the doctor office at about 2:45 PM..

We were entertained in the waiting room by a confused woodpecker. At least I think it was a woodpecker.

I kept hearing this noise. For a while I thought someone was working outside. It continued and I finally noticed this bird pecking at the corner of the windows. He would leave and return. I am not sure what he thought he was going to accomplish by tapping on the window, but he did keep me amused. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to amused.

Rude Awakening

I received the following email this morning. Maybe it is time to put out another advisory, that retirement in Panama is not for everyone.

Hi Don Ray,
I visited with Peter yesterday. He said he had found John on the floor at the Occidental apartment. Peter said it was a hard fall but nothing was broken. It looked like someone had taken a bat to John. Peter had him transported to Regional. When they checked in at ER no one asked who would be responsible for the bill.

Regional kept him for 4 nights. Peter purchased a wheelchair. He went out there to pick him up. They unhooked the tubes, put John in the chair and off they go. The hospital did not present Peter with a bill. or ask for payment.

Peter is trying to get John checked into El Hogar de los Ancianos. John is #4 on the waiting list. Peter said they were going to charge $700/month. Peter said there is a place in Dolega but that is too far for him to go.

Peter was very impressed that you had made the trip to the Occidental and that a lady from the embassy called.

I just thought I’d update you. Some Americans are in for a rude awakening when they learn they can’t find a care home.


Last month I visited another U.S. Citizen in Algorrobos that is also on the waiting list. He had recently had a stroke and his neighbor’s are taking care of him until a vacancy is open. Continue reading Rude Awakening

Another HealthCare Observation

I have another healthcare case, which is providing more experience, that I feel I should share.

This individual came to Panama with no insurance, only social security income, and has developed significant healthcare issues. He was taken to one of the public healthcare facilities and was seen by the resident doctor.

The doctor was very vocal in stating that he did not understand why elder American citizens, with medical problems, are allowed in Panama and why the U.S. Embassy does not provide assistance to them. He ended the conversation saying that he would limit his service, for this patient, to just writing a report on his condition and no more.

He explained that there are no beds in the public hospitals and that a Panamanian needs to wait almost seven days for a bed.

I know this doctor, as he is the doctor that Hogar Santa Catalina took Robert (the stroke victim) for a checkup. In that meeting, he accused all U.S. Citizens of being insolvent and if he needed treatment that he would have to be taken to his private practice in Hospital Chiriqui where he would bet paid his specialist fee.

Needless to say, this doctor was removed from my list of doctors receiving a recommendation by me. His attitude is a discredit to the medical profession and he is a poor representation of Panamanian physicians. He was extremely rude to me when I was was with Robert in his office.

That being said, it should be noted that his sentiments are shared by others. Luckily, they are the minority. I will admit, that while this doctor’s deportment is deplorable, he has some valid points behind his statements.

If this individual goes to the Regional Hospital and has the proscribed CAT scans, x-rays and other tests, he may not have the ability to pay. If that happens, it will put more more burden on the already overburdened Panama system.

Most private hospitals will not admit patients without proof of payment. The public hospitals are crowed and understaffed. Walk-ins to the public hospital will most likely be placed on the same 7 day waiting list mentioned by the doctor.

I had another case where the Regional Hospital asked a U.S. citizen to leave because they said he was in good enough condition and they hospital needed the bed. I received a call from his landlady about 6 hours after his release telling me that he was not doing well. He died about 2 hours after the 911 services arrived. It was obvious that it was an error by the hospital to release the patient.

Bottom line is that if you are moving to Panama, with a problematic medical history or the probability that medical care will be needed, be prepared to pay. I took a physical prior to moving to Panama and found that I needed surgery and didn’t know it. The rumors of cheap health care in Panama is always relative.

I can visit a clinic for a cold or infection or minor office visit. The cost will be $6 for the visit and I have always been treated with respect. However, if I need to see a specialist, the office visit will be from $35 to $80 or so after the jubilado discount. In all of my specialist doctor visits, I have always been treated with resect.

I always advise any person making an exploratory trip, for viewing Panama as a retirement location, to visit the hospitals. You should also visit the Regional Hospital (public) even though you think you would only use a private hospital, because the public hospital is most likely where you will be taken, if you are in a serious accident.

If you do move here, you should immediately determine what doctors you want to use as your primary care physicians. Finding one in an emergency may put you with one doesn’t like foreigners.

Worthwhile Read

Another prominent blogger, in Chiriquí, is Richard Dietrich, His current blog is probably a worthwhile read. I usually don’t direct people to his blog because I view it an a “for Profit” blog as evidenced by the $1,144,000 property he is selling, other ads and promotion of his books.

The fact that he spends more time on cruise ships lecturing than living in Panama makes his Panama experiences different than the majority of people moving from the U.S., thinking they are moving here for a slower paced and cheaper way of life.

Depending on one’s age, it may be neither of those.

In his current post, he touches on items such as the “Pensionado Discounts”, “Gringo Bingo”, “Healthcare” and a new chapter to his latest book called “Exit Strategy”.

It is the Exit Strategy, I would like to spend a little more time on. No book, magazine article, or blog should be sufficient for making the decision of a permanent move to Panama, or any other foreign country for that matter.

At best, they may provide a reason for a closer look. The closer look needs to be intensive. You have to live like a resident for a minimum of 6-10 months in both the rainy and dry seasons. The longer the better.

You need to experience waiting in lines to pay bills, waiting in lines to get over charges removed from bills, language and cultural differences, water outages from hours to weeks, electricity outages from hours to days, continuous electricity fluctuation (which may damage connected devices), non English TV, gringo pricing, Internet outages (assuming you can get Internet), healthcare, healthcare insurance, and on and on.

With those 6-10 months, you may not need an exit strategy. You will either realize that Panama is a mistake for you or you will know a few of the things you have to cope with. I have lived here going on 13 years and continue to have new experiences.

And yes, I do believe you shouldn’t move here without an Exit Strategy. I know people who are here, who want to move back and can’t do it.

It may be because they put all their life savings into moving and can’t pull together enough money to make the move back. It may be because they came here and a health problem hit and they had no option to return because their health wouldn’t permit it. Many have had health bills in Panama that totally depleted all their savings. Of course, that happens in the U.S. too, except no one ever told you that the U.S. had cheap healthcare.

As a disclaimer, when I moved here, my long term plan was to live here for a maximum of 20 years, sell my property for a $1,000,000 and return to the U.S. I moved with an exit strategy in mind. In that regard, I was no different than my fellow blogger Richard.

However, an error in judgement in a second marriage removed that as a possibility. No I didn’t marry after moving to Panama, but was married in the U.S. exactly 10 years prior to my move to Chiriquí. The good news is that I would never have met Lilliam and her family if I hadn’t moved to Panama.

This reminds me, don’t move here, because you think the move will be good for your marriage. If your marriage is on shaky ground before the move, this move will end the marriage.

Bottom line, buy all the books you can and take advantage of all the media on the Internet to better understand living in Panama. The cost and time will be insignificant compared to a permanent move.

Just remember this old saying my dad used to tell me “ I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

No article, book or blog will compare with your individual Panama experience. HERE is Richard’s book, if you want to assist him with part of his exit strategy.