Lets Talk About Panama Healthcare Costs
FIRST THERE IS NO FREE HEALTHCARE IN PANAMA
Often expats find that healthcare coverage is their biggest expense living abroad. It can cost twice or three times what their rental housing costs.
Expats who move to another country who are intending to get healthcare coverage would be wise to look into the costs before they move. Otherwise they might be shocked and find out their small budget does not have room for a health insurance policy.
In general I am finding expats have a misconception about healthcare costs. A direct result is finding many people moving back to North America because of the rising costs in insurance they can no longer pay for here. Or that they had no idea in the first place what health care coverage looks like here.
After four years here, I have heard stories about care here from people who had no insurance to those that had full coverage. Again planning based on the money you have is extremely important when considering moving abroad.
Many expats come with no money and live month to month on a retirement benefit. They can’t afford any insurance or coverage and simply say that if something happens they will just get on a plane and go back to have Medicare cover them in the States. Let me point out that if you have a heart attack, stroke or any life threatening emergency, you will not have time to get on a plane.
So What’s Out There for Health Insurance in Panama??
As I want this article to remain evergreen, I will only give the basics.
First, many local hospitals have their own private insurance or discount plans. In David, Hospital Chriqui has just that. A discount plan that pays up to 70% of healthcare costs depending on what that is. There is also a cap on the amount they will pay yearly. They have family plans designed to save you even more money. Bottom line is that you pay a very small fee monthly for coverage. The downside I have seen is that people I know who have had to have major operations, even with coverage have to pay out of pocket and that can be huge amount. By huge I mean upwards of $10,000 or more. And you better have a credit card or cash to pay it. So while these people brag to me about their small monthly premium they are paying, they are playing Russian roulette with their bank accounts. I guess it’s great if you have millions, but most expats do not.
Next are the private health insurance companies of which Panama has a good selection. This is where you must know what you want coverage for and how much you are willing to spend to get it.
More importantly these policies are not like North American policies and this is where many expats fail to do their due diligence also. No new private insurance policy will be issued to anyone over 65, period. Almost no one knows this. I know people who are young using the discount plan at Hospital Chiriqui who think when they get to be “older” they will switch to a better plan and then oops, over 65 and stuck. Also if you want to get a new policy and you have any preexisting health issues or have had previous diseases, three things may happen:
- You may get a policy but it won’t ever cover you for those health issues, ever!
- You may get a policy with a waiting period for coverage and periodic testing of those issues and pay a hefty increase in premium.
- You may be rejected altogether.
The other issue that is currently happening for many Americans is that as a person ages of course,, their premium goes up. Even if they don’t have preexisting conditions, if they have a $5000 deductible plan with 100% coverage for any in hospital visit by the time they reach 65 a single persons monthly cost may be $583 a month. That’s $7000 a year per person. For a couple that can be $14,000 or more. And lets face it, the older we get the better chance we will get sick and we will need that insurance coverage.
This is when Americans decide whether staying or going back makes more sense for their budgets. They must decide between staying here and paying that fee per person a year or going back to the US to have Medicare coverage with substantially lower out of pocket secondary insurance. Many people I know who have lived here a long time have elected to return to the US, thus saving themselves a good $800 or more a month for a couple.
So many couples who do not want to move back to the US are forced to by the increase premiums with private insurance policies here.
So although none of us can predict our future health issues, it is a major cost factor to consider when moving abroad.
I am 59 years old. I got my plan when I was 55. I had and still have no health conditions. I elected to get Worldwide Medicals Plan with a $5000 deductible for out of hospital services. This means things like doctor visits, prescriptions and things like that I pay out of pocket for ( using my senior discount).My plan pays 100% for any treatment I need done in a hospital without a copay. I don’t have the best plan they offer but I do have a good plan. They also cover me if I visit the US. I pay at the age of 59, $190 a month. At this point in my life, this amount fits into my budget.
I personally see too many people who have sold everything, moved shipping containers of belongings here with a tight monthly budget to live on. Six months after being moved in they look into health insurance as an after thought, when in reality it should have been factored into their budgets before they decided on living here. Then they are forced to either elect no insurance coverage or move back because they had no idea about how insurance works here or the costs.
This is so sad and so avoidable with just doing some due diligence before coming here. So yes, Panama healthcare is less expensive than North America, but it is not free and in fact, prices are steadily rising for expats who come with many preexisting conditions and even for those who don’t.
Find an insurance broker in Panama to talk with about your insurance needs before you move.