The most-asked questions from people relocating overseas are regarding health care and medical insurance coverage, and rightfully so. Whether you are moving as a young family, for a business transfer, for retirement, or any other scenario, medical care should be your first concern.
Snowbirds have a bit of an advantage, as they can retain their “home” coverage if only out of that country for a maximum of six months. However, they still need health care in their sometimes-home.
Regular health care in Panama such as doctor visits, specialist consultations, dental, chiropractic, and others are reasonably priced. If you are resident under the excellent pensionado program, the additional discounts of these and of medications allow you to cover these expenses out of pocket.
Most medications are available over the counter, except antibiotics or those containing narcotics. Doctors are also hesitant to supply long-term amounts of pain killers such as morphine. They will only give you enough for a maximum of 14 days. They explain that “pain is in your mind.” Their concern is for your true health. Be aware that certain types of drugs such as anti-nausea meds and anti-depressants are named differently in Panama than in North America. You’ll have to do some research to find an equivalent or use the generic name.
However, for emergency services accidents, and serious illnesses, it is essential to have some form of coverage. There are two types of medical insurance—local and international. International coverage offers a wider network of doctors, hospitals, and higher coverage amounts anywhere in the world, including your home country if you choose to include it in your coverage; exclude it to save money if you don’t go back regularly. Whether you are a U.S. citizen or a citizen of another country traveling to the States, it will be significantly less expensive to purchase travel insurance for the duration of your stay.
If you’re thinking of going international, you should consult a professional insurance broker. They take all your information and help you decide which plan or company best fits your needs. Several LIOS staff have used this brokerage to find a plan that suits their expat and travel needs affordably. The service is excellent and highly personalized.
Local medical insurance plans supply coverage only in Panama. This is a good option for those who, like snowbirds, have coverage “back home.”
Many insurers will sell full medical coverage. If you can afford the premiums, the plans offered are comprehensive and provide good coverage. However, keep in mind that these carriers rarely offer coverage of pre-conditions, and there is almost always an age limit.
Another local option is a hospital plan. Several hospitals and clinics offer programs that allow for discounts on all their medical procedures, medications, and more. Hospital Santa Fe in Panama City has such a plan, as well as several hospitals in David, Chiriquí.
If you’re in Western Panama, Hospital Cooperativo in David is and is a great alternative to full outside medical coverage. It gives you access to excellent medical care from well-trained doctors in a well-maintained hospital. It’s a cooperative organization that charges low prices and operates on a non-profit basis. At year’s end, any gains are used for developing and improving the hospital and its services.
Services include general medicine, internal medicine, emergency room, pediatric medicine, gynecology, cardiology, radiology, orthopedics, and more. A sample of applicable discounts available for group members are:
- Emergency room 50%
- Operating room 30%
- Hospital rooms 30%
- Injections 30%
- Specialist consults 20%
- Lab tests 30%
- Ultrasound 20%
- X-rays 20%
Considering these prices are already incredibly low, the discounts make them extremely affordable. For example, the cost to use the emergency room service is US$7.50, and the daily cost for a hospital room is between US$42 and US$49. Yearly membership fees at this time are a mere US$120 per person. There is no waiting period, there are no pre-existing condition restrictions, and there are no age limits.
Another option to consider, especially for those of us who do not speak Spanish fluently, are the new all-encompassing “help” programs such as Keep It Simple Panama in David and Rodny Direct (RD) in Boquete. These companies’ assist expats in emergency situations or those simply needing support to cut through the red tape. They are also affiliated with different hospitals and offer discounts similar to Hospital Cooperativo.
If you sign up with RD (for US$80 per year for the entire family, as well as out of country visitors), a doctor or other will be on call 24/7 to assist you in any way he can. Most of Panama doesn’t use street addresses, making it difficult to explain where you need an ambulance to go. Members receive a number to apply to your entry gate or the outside of your home that will enable him to give exact directions to ambulance drivers, police, or firemen.
Medical emergency assistance is just one of the areas where this service is essential.
In a car accident on the highway and need help talking to the police, the other driver, or the insurance agent but you don’t know Spanish? Call the RD number and someone will immediately sort it out, in person if they are in the vicinity or by phone.
Have a vehicle breakdown on the Pan-American Highway with no facilities in sight? Call RD for assistance, whether it be a tow truck, service station, or transportation home.
This is merely a sampling of the invaluable help these organizations provide. The more vital information you put into your profile, the better they can assist you.
There are countless advantages with Panamanian health care:
- No long waiting lists for procedures from MRIs to hip replacements, as is the case in Canada and the States.
- Specialists are readily accessible and are often available the same day the injury/illness occurs.
- Most hospitals have their own on-site pharmacies, observe pensionado or in-house discounts, and prescribe by the pill rather than requiring the purchase of a full month supply.
- Many doctors make themselves personally available by cell phone when necessary.
- Every town and city has sufficient clinics and hospitals to serve the population, and many are open extended hours for emergencies.
Rest assured that whichever plan or form of coverage you choose, your medical needs will be met in Panama.