Obamacare? No Gracias: An American’s View on Healthcare Options in Mexico

A few people have asked me about healthcare in Mexico.  I will admit to you right now that we have no health insurance here in Mexico.  I often worry about being uncovered.  I believe this worried state stems from the fact that I have never been without some sort of health coverage.  Being without health insurance in America carries a great risk and an even bigger one having a small child.  Honestly, from my experiences, there is really no reason to have health insurance in Mexico.  I do; however, thank God every day that all three of us do not have any health conditions that cause us to have regular doctor visits or prescriptions that must be filled to ensure our health.

I have been blessed with a healthy child.  He just turned two right before Christmas, and he has only had a couple of colds and one night of a stomach bug.  He has not had any illness that could not be cured with a little bit of Tylenol.  When we arrived here, my son had just turned four months old so naturally I had those moments when I would wake up in the middle of the night and worry about keeping him healthy.  Before we left, my son Isa (a nickname for the Spanish-pronounced Isaac), was almost due for his four-month shots.  I was in a panic because when I called his doctor in Texas before we left for Mexico, the receptionist informed me that they could not give him his shots until he was a complete four months old.  My son ended up turning four months during our long trek to Central Mexico.  When we got to San Miguel, my husband set out on a mission to find a place for my baby to get his immunizations.  I am not educated in the medical profession at all, but I have several family members who are highly educated in medicine, and all of them profess strong beliefs in regular vaccinations so I knew it was something we had to make a priority. Honestly, it was not that difficult to find a place to get my son updated on his shots.  From my loose research I have done online and from what I have seen with my own eyes,  Mexico is actually very strict on vaccinations.  I have read that a van will show up at the schools and if a child is not up to date on his or her shots, they will provide the shots.  The information I read did not indicate whether the parents were made aware or not if this should happen.  When my husband found a clinic that offered the vaccinations, I thought, “Okay, so how much is this going to cost?”  My “American mind” automatically thought it would cost $100 per shot mainly because my son is an American citizen and possessed an American shot record. Nope!  It was free!  FREE!  This was even with my son’s shot record which was quite different from the shot record they give to parents of newborns in Mexico.  We just took my little boy into the clinic, waited in line while the nurse asked for our information, and about ten minutes later, my husband took him into the room where he received his needed shots.  The nurse then recorded the shots my son had received that day, and we were done until the next round of vaccinations rolled around.  When comparing my son’s American shot record with the Mexican record, I found that there really were not that many differences.  The only difference I found was that Mexico did not offer the Varicella (Chicken Pox) vaccination nor did they offer the Hepatitis A shot in the public clinics. We were told that Mexico had the vaccinations, but we would have to go to a private doctor and purchase the shots.  I also found out that Mexico is at the top of the list of the countries not to visit (or live) until you and your loved ones have had the Hep A shot. I called the health department in Marshall, Texas, and they told me they could get my Isa caught up on his shots for $10.  Fortunately at that time, I had already booked a trip home so we opted to just wait until then to get the two shots my son was missing.  We have also taken him for a couple of general check-ups as well.  The doctor we chose was an older gentleman and was very informative on what my son should be eating and the habitual changes we should be seeing. As for the physical check-up, the Mexican doctor performed everything that Isa’s doctor in the United States did.  I was satisfied with his examination and I will admit, embarrassingly surprised.

A lot of media has reported on the availability of prescription drugs here in Mexico as compared to the United States.  I will admit, it is a lot easier to get certain prescriptions.  Some medications that require prescriptions from a doctor in the States do not require them here.  You just walk up to the counter and tell them what you want.  Now, don’t get all excited and start comparing flight prices. You cannot just prance up to the counter and tell them you need Valium or Vicodin…sorry.  For instance, I am able to get my migraine pills over the counter here whereas I had to have a prescription in the U.S.  As for any medication that is “controlled” here, you must have a prescription from a doctor.  Of course, this includes all narcotic pain killers and antibiotics.  Usually a doctor is located right next door to the pharmacy, and you can just walk in without an appointment.  Obviously, it goes without saying, if one should walk into the “waiting room” for the doctor, and there is a lady there with five kids under ten with snotty noses and hacking coughs, he or she may want to proceed on to the next doctor’s office because it will most likely be a long wait.  Doctors can be found pretty much everywhere. Where we took my son for his check-up, the pediatrician was housed in the same building with many other physicians.  From what I remember, there was an OB-GYN, several pediatricians other than the one we chose for my son, and several General Practitioners.

I am ashamed to admit that it had been quite some time since my last visit to the dentist so I knew it was definitely time to start the hunt for one.  Like doctors, dentists down here are rather easy to find.  My husband knew of a dentist through some of his family so we went to her office, and they did not have an opening that day so they told us to come back the next day.  Since we were already out and about, we went to another dentist to see if we could get in, but the looks of the place did not exactly impress me.  Call me a snob, but if someone is going to be poking around in my mouth, I want to ensure that the atmosphere is clean, and I did not get that impression.  The next day when we went back to our first choice of dentists, I was relieved we went with this option. Her office was impeccably clean, and her office staff was very accomodating.  Of course my husband had to translate every now and then for me, but the dentist performed every part of a regular cleaning I was used to in the U.S.  She took her time and answered my questions about some phantom pain I had been experiencing from wisdom teeth extractions I had done a few years ago while in the U.S.  I felt like she actually cared about me as her patient which, to be honest, I did not always feel in the past dentist visits in America.  In the U.S., I would wait in the waiting room for at least thirty minutes after my appointment was scheduled for, and then they would rush me through so they could get on to the next money-maker.  This rushed consultation and cleaning would almost always be accompanied with a few suggestions for preventative care for my teeth that would never be covered by insurance.  At the end of the appointment here in San Miguel, I was prepared to pay the dentist 300 pesos which is roughly $18.  Hey!  I’m fine with that.  Much to my surprise, she insisted I only owed her 200 pesos because my teeth were well taken care of, and she did not have to do any intense cleaning.  This amount converts to around $12.  WOW!  I was very happy, and my teeth were shiny and clean.

The payment process was also a surprise to me when going to the doctor for my son and receiving a cleaning and consultation at the dentist.  Rather than dealing with the dreaded insurance policies and being sure that I was at least familiar with every stipulation, we simply paid a flat fee to the practicing physician and dentist.  Every time I went to the doctor or dentist in the U.S., there was always that period of time when I hated to check the mailbox because a lot of times after a doctor or dentist’s visit, there would be a bill waiting there for me because my insurance had not covered everything.  Then there was always the trouble of carving at least two hours out of a day to call the insurance company to attempt to dispute the charges.  I became accustomed to the reply from the insurance company that I needed to call the doctor or dentist’s office, and when I would call them, I would get the reply that I needed to take my questions up with the insurance company.   This entire back and forth process was infuriating and would often leave me in a pissed off mood for the rest of the day.  This painful experience is nonexistent for me down here.  I do often worry that something will come up that will put us in a bind, and I have researched options for expatriate insurance, but the prices are exorbitant, and I am assuming they come with countless stipulations.

I have also genetically been “blessed” (sorry Mama) with bad eyesight.  I have had glasses since I was seven years old, and I upgraded to contacts when I was about twelve.  I was fortunately allowed to order a six month supply of contacts when I was in the U.S. in March because it had not quite reached the one year mark of my last eye exam.  From what I understand, one cannot order contacts and/or glasses in the U.S. without a yearly eye exam.  Well, the other day I thought I had dropped one of my last contacts down the sink only to find it the next day crinkled up on the floor so I knew it was about that time to seek out an optometrist.  We were in the grocery store the other day and happened to pass by the small optometrist’s office on our way out, and my husband checked in to see when I could get in for an exam and also on pricing.  Believe it or not, I was able to get in for the exam right then.  The exam itself was free. The only money out of pocket was the fee for my contacts.  The price for contacts were around what I would pay in the U.S.  It came to about 100 USD, and I got the exact brand I have used for about five years.  I explained to the eye doctor that I had astigmatism, and he assured me that he would have the correct contacts ordered.  The optometrist performed everything I was used to from the many years of eye doctor vists I have experienced, and he spoke English rather well.  He even put these funny-looking glasses on me with the prescription he had gotten from my examination to ensure that it was correct.  Of course, it was perfect.  The only slight problem I had was actually getting my contacts.  What many people do not understand about Mexico is that there are many holidays.  While America’s winter or end-of-year holidays start a little before Christmas and if you are lucky, last until New Year’s Day with everyone grudgingly returning to work immdiately after these celebrated holidays, Mexico has a slight extension.  Their holiday season stretches until around January 7th.  This means that basically everything shuts down from right at Christmas until well after the New Year.  Unfortunately for me, this also meant my contacts would not be ordered until after this long stretch of “holiday.”  Also, it would add another week to my wait for the product that allows me to see two feet in front of me to actually arrive.  Along with my bitching, I must say that I am very thankful for Mexico’s service that allows me to order what some may consider to be cosmetic in a somewhat timely and convenient manner.

As a mother, my child’s health is at the top of my priority list, and being this magnificent child’s mother also causes me to worry about my own health.  Sometimes I worry that our situation puts my child in a high-risk category because he is not insured in America.  All I can do at this point is hope and pray my worst fear of my child becoming unhealthy will not come true.  While being an American and being told that Mexico’s level of expertise in medicine is lacking compared to the medical services available in America, I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised in the service and pricing associated with all of the health services we have utilized in Mexico. I must also remind you once again that my son and I are American Citizens.  While we possess the legal requirements to be present in Mexico, we are not considered residents of the country.  Our use of Mexican medical services has proceeded rather smoothly considering that my son and I are foreign.  Our current situation has motivated me to do intense research on health options and quality of medical services. Like I said before, I am in no way educated in medicine, but this hardship, as I cannot help but call it occasionally, has led me to be proactive and keep up to date on all health concerns.  My child is healthy as are his parents.  At this time, this is something to be grateful for and also something that gives us strength to continue the fight to return home.

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