Health insurance in the United States today is a maddening, sometimes infuriating quagmire.
This is not a global reality. Many, many other places around the world, both health care and health insurance are nothing like the emotional and financial burdens that, very unfortunately, they have become in the States.
I’d like to share a story with you, a story about a friend, Lee, who has been retired outside the United States for nearly 20 years. In all those years living overseas, Lee has had a number of occasions to seek medical care. In one case, he had to have the exact same procedure performed in Cuenca, Ecuador, that he also had performed, at about the same time, in the United States.
I’ll let Lee tell you the story himself…
“My dermatologist in Cuenca is the best I’ve had in my 30-year experience with dermatologists. In fact, even though I have insurance in the United States, I still return to Cuenca (when I can) for his care.
“During a recent visit, I had a small, non-threatening skin cancer removed. The total cost was US$90, which included the operation, office visit, local anesthesia, and supplies. In addition, I paid US$20 for associated lab work, meaning the total bill was US$110.
“By coincidence, I’d had the same thing done the last time I was in Arizona. The total cost there was US$5,190. Even after insurance, my portion was still US$347.11.
“To put this into perspective, it cost 300% more to be insured in the United States than it cost to be uninsured in Ecuador!”
But the cost of the medical care we receive is only part of the story, isn’t it?
The other, in fact more important part of any experience to do with seeking medical care is the quality of the care, right?
We’re concerned about what it costs to keep ourselves healthy and well and to seek medical attention when we need it… but we’re also concerned (more concerned, really) about how we’re treated in the process.
That’s why Lee’s story gets even better…
“Now, here’s the kicker,” Lee continues. “The care I got in Cuenca was noticeably better than the care I’d gotten in the United States—better attention, more personalized, fewer mistakes…
“Further,” Lee adds, “In Ecuador, all the results and records belong to the patient. The doctor delivers them to you, along with any recommendation, and you can do as you please, easily going somewhere else for follow-up or treatment if you’d like.”
In many places around the world, it’s possible still to enjoy very personal care, where you, the patient, work in partnership with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment. You’re in control, you’re respected.
Further, doctors and other caregivers have time and take time to get to know you personally, to become familiar with your life and your lifestyle.
What’s the difference?
The reason health care is so affordable and also so personal in Ecuador and many, many other places around the world (doctors will sit and chat with you for an hour or longer) is because there’s no pressure in these places from any insurance industry… and no pressure from any pharmaceutical industry either.
Ecuador, specifically Cuenca, is a really great example of health care at its best. Cuenca has recognized the opportunity in this regard, appreciating that many would-be retirees are frustrated, even disgusted with the state of medical care in their home countries and are actively seeking out options. Cuenca is emerging as one of the best.
Specifically, Cuenca is offering city-sponsored programs promoting itself as a “Medical Tourism” destination. The city’s five top hospitals have joined together to offer a package deal. They give the medical tourist an ID card that entitles you to a package of exams and standard prices, at the facility of your choice. You sign up for a bundle of medical services that best suits your needs. Prices range from US$66 to US$401 for the entire suite.
Breaking down the individual items that make up the package, here are a few examples:
- Chest X-ray: US$25
- PSA test: US$15
- EKG: US$25
- EEG: US$60
- Hearing test: US$15
- Mammogram: US$40
In addition, your medical tourist card entitles you to hotel and travel discounts throughout the city… including for things like hot springs and massages. If you’d like to see the city—while getting a great checkup at a low price—this is a good way to do it… while, at the same time, having an introduction to Cuenca’s health care system.
Even if you don’t sign up for this packaged program, your costs of health care in Cuenca will be very low. A hospital stay in a semi-private room is still just US$30. A private room with an extra bed for family members is US$50, while a private suite is US$75.
What about nursing care? This can be an important and nagging issue for retirees abroad.
The truth is, not many places around the world offer appealing nursing care choices, but Cuenca does.
One new nursing facility in particular is clean and well-run with professional staff and residents who are well-cared-for. A friend toured this facility and reported back:
“When I arrived (unannounced), I found a group of perhaps 15 residents enjoying the sun in the interior courtyard, while others were exercising with staff members or visiting family.
“The total cost is US$450 per month, which includes 24-hour doctor and nurse attendance, food, laundry, personal care, and occupational/rehabilitative therapy…”
Cuenca, Ecuador, is one of the best examples of how good and how almost unbelievably affordable health care can be overseas… but it’s hardly the only example.
Stephen Also Had Medical Care Overseas
Another friend, Stephen, has a similar story to Lee’s.
Like Lee, Stephen also had the experience recently of seeking medical care both in the United States (in Texas) and overseas (Thailand) for the same condition.
Here’s how Stephen describes his experiences…
“Let me give you a side-by-side comparison, Texas and Thailand,” Stephen says.
“To start, in Dallas, I couldn’t get an appointment for three months, because I wasn’t a previous patient. In Bangkok, a doctor visit was available within 20 minutes, no appointment required.
“In Dallas, my visit was at a freestanding clinic, with two doctors on duty. In Bangkok, my visit was at a world-class medical hospital.
“In Dallas, my waiting time was almost five hours—three-and-a-half hours in the main waiting room just to see the doctor, then another hour in the examination room. In Bangkok, my wait was 20 minutes (remember, this was without an appointment).
“In Dallas, after I’d seen my doctor, I went to fill my prescription. The first pharmacy told me I’d have to wait an hour. So I drove to a second pharmacy, where I had to wait 30 minutes. Total time, including driving, was one-and-a-half hours.
“In Bangkok, the pharmacy was on-site. My medication was delivered to me 10 minutes after I’d seen the doctor.
“In Dallas, the cost was US$150 for the doctor, US$50 for an ‘extra services’ fee, and US$150 for the medication. In Bangkok, the cost was US$30 for the doctor, US$10 for the ‘clinic fee,’ and US$100 for the medication.
“Bottom line, in Dallas, I spent six hours and US$350 and was frustrated the entire way. In Bangkok, it took less than an hour to achieve the same result and cost me just US$140. And I got fast service… with personal courtesy to boot.”
Lee’s and Stephen’s experiences aren’t isolated instances. They’re just two examples of the current reality. The truth today is that, not only should the idea of seeking medical care overseas not be a cause for concern… but, in our world today, seeking medical care overseas presents a very important opportunity. An opportunity to enjoy superior and more personal care… with less hassle, less waiting… all at a drastically reduced cost.
“Medical Tourism,” as it’s called—seeking out medical care overseas—is the way of the world. The sensible solution. And really, really good news for anyone considering living or retiring to another country.