Panama Health Care and Health Insurance

By Eliecer Andres Lay

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If you are thinking of moving to Boquete, or just visiting, you might wonder “what’s the Panama health care like?”

Last week I began to feel sick and it later turned into a really bad cold and fever as well. I assumed that I had a virus. The first thing I did when I started to feel sick was to take an over-the-counter flu medicine for the cold and it did not help me with my symptoms at all. I soon started to feel worse. Then I decided to go to a private system clinic to see a doctor. My out-of-office cost was only $10 and the doctor prescribed me some medicines, including antibiotics. In total I spent around $35 that included the doctor’s appointment and my medicines. Within a few days I felt better. As you can see a doctor’s appointment is inexpensive but the medicines can be a little costly, depending on what you need to purchase.

In Boquete, there are different ways that you can get medical attention when you are sick. Even If you come from another country you can get medical attention in a clinic. The pricing is really low and is usually under $20.00 depending on where you go. Boquete has several clinics that are really accessible and designed for the community as well as If you have a bad emergency they will take you in an ambulance to a hospital in David. There is also an emergency number similar to 911 in Boquete and the name of the person is Rodny who is charge of responding to the calls. His phone number at “Alto Al Crimen” is 6677-6662. He is available 24/7/365 days and is able to assist you in any emergency you have in both English and Spanish. Most Boquetenians contact Rodny first and he in turn contacts all the emergency responders.

Panama health care is divided into three different systems:

  • National Health Care – Called “Ministerio de Salud”, also known as MINSA. These are yellow, green, and white buildings and are located in almost every community. It is basically free or low cost to the locals. This system is designed to mainly treat the poor community and those who do not have social security health benefits.
  • Social Security Clinic– Everyone who works in Panama must by law pay into the Panamanian Social Security system. Basically the employer pays around half and the employee pays the other half. For the coffee farm workers their medical coverage is about $4 a week and for government workers the cost will average $15 a week. Often doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals that are at no cost and are available at the social security pharmacy. Also, pharmacies throughout Panama sell pharmaceuticals by single dose (one pill). So if your doctor prescribes something, you buy only as many as you have been prescribed, you desire, or you can afford.
  • Private System – This system is widely used by the expat community and also by the increasing number of people who are coming to Panama to have medical procedures done. Such procedures as bypass surgery or cancer recovery is a growing industry called “medical tourism” in Panama. In Chiriqui province, where Boquete is located, there are five private hospitals where you can get any surgery and most of the treatments you need. For more involved procedures and treatment one has to go to the hospitals in Panama City. The private hospital costs are higher than if you go to a small clinic.

The information below is taken from an article about Health Care in Panama: Excellent Care at Half the Cost of the U.S.

Here are some personal stories:

I’ve been living in Panama full-time since 2005, and one of the best things about living here is the health care. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. I’ve interviewed slews of expats here, and nearly every single person I talk to is mightily impressed by the health care in Panama.

International Living editor Dan Prescher says the health care in Panama is modern and affordable. He went to see my eye doctor in Panama City—he liked the doctor and the modern facility so much, Dan decided to have laser eye surgery done here. He estimates he saved up to 50% by having the procedure in Panama instead of back in the United States.

Expat resident Linda McKee says she likes the personal attention she and her husband, Eric, have received here: “Have you ever called a doctor in the U.S. at home on a weekend? My husband Eric and I had never had the pleasure…until we came to Panama. And we’re not the only ones—most of the expats I’ve met agree that the personalized health care in Panama is excellent.”

You’ll find excellent hospitals in Panama—in popular towns like Panama City, Chitre, CoronadoBoquete and David, the modern facilities are first rate. The country is so small, you’re likely to never be no more than an hour or two away from a major hospital (with plenty of smaller facilities, dental clinics, eye doctors and more close by). Boquete is only 35 minutes away from the nearest hospital.

Health care in Panama: One expats’ success story

One night in Boquete, expat Lee’s wife Jennifer began experiencing severe stomach pains. He rushed her to the local Boquete clinic, but she was soon sent to Hospital Chiriqui in the town of David, a 35-minute drive away. His normally healthy wife was experiencing acute liver failure and her kidneys began to shut down. Her doctors in David decided she needed specialized care in Panama City. A private plane was chartered to take her to Hospital Punta Pacifica, where Jennifer spent eight days in intensive care.

Says Lee: “She was never left unattended…the care and facility is as good as or better than any I have experienced or observed in the U.S.” Lee adds that the doctors were “beyond exceptional” and the nursing and technical staff were excellent.

Lee believes that Punta Pacifica’s affiliation with Johns Hopkins Medicine International was critical to saving Jennifer’s life. Specialists at both hospitals were in constant contact, affording her the best possible medical care her “international team” could provide. Despite living in the small mountain town of Boquete, Jennifer was able to get top-notch treatment thanks to the professionalism and timely actions of Panamanian health care professionals.

Giving health care in Panama a “good rep”

Another reason the health care in Panama has such a good rep is that many doctors here are U.S.-trained. Not only have that, but the standards at the top hospitals in Panama compared favorably with those in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

The largest hospitals in Panama are affiliated with First World facilities in the U.S. and elsewhere. In fact, Panama is the only Latin American nation to boast a John’s Hopkins-affiliated facility: Hospital Punta Pacifica (known as the most technologically advanced hospital in the region).

Although insurance is available in Boquete, for example, through Magda Crespo insurance, phone number, 6671-8800, located in San Francisco Plaza, many expats choose to purchase the insurance only for travel outside of Panama. Magda also covers home and auto insurance. So you can be rest-assured that you are in good hands should you have any healthcare needs. There are many other insurance agents also available in Boquete and David area in addition to Magda.

As you can see, health care and health insurance options abound in Boquete/David area and Panama in general that would meet the needs of expats with varying health concerns. The key to ascertaining the best options for you is to come down in person to Panama and talk to a reputable agent who can answer any questions you may have. Also, don’t forget to ask other expats who have already been living here who can share with you their own personal experiences. As we say here in Panama “Buena Suerte!” (Good Luck!).

Update: The Panama Authority of Tourism, communicates to all visitors in Panama and those who are considering Panama as a tourist destination that the tourist insurance contract expired on June 30, 2014 and the program was terminated on the same day.  All visitors should make use of their private health insurance in case of medical emergencies.

 

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