How To Protect Your Health And Your Wallet in Puerto Vallarta
Quality affordable health care is one of the key reasons so many Americans and Canadians choose to live in Puerto Vallarta. With several well-equipped hospitals and a host of excellent doctors to choose from, your health and financial well-being are manageable – if you take reasonable precautions.
Medical care in Mexico is affordable - when compared with costs in the U.S. - but it is not free and you will most likely have to pay in advance for services and seek reimbursement from your insurance carrier later.
Medical insurance is a must for travelers and expatriates but most traditional health insurance policies (including Medicare and Medicare supplements) have limited or no coverage once you leave your home country. Often, coverage is limited to emergency room, in-patient and/or life-threatening conditions. What happens if you take ill or an old condition flairs up? Be sure to check with your health insurance carrier to determine what, if any, protection you will have before you travel!
Emergency air evacuation (MedEvac) is another form of protection that many expats utilize. We are all subject to accidents and illnesses requiring hospitalization. Having the option to seek treatment and recovery back in familiar surroundings with family and friends around is an affordable solution – especially if your health insurance doesn’t cover you here. Rapid MedEvac from our international airport to any place in North America is another reason to choose Puerto Vallarta.
We are all unique, so no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all insurance policy will meet the needs of everyone lucky enough to call Puerto Vallarta “home.” Often spouses will have different policies providing different benefits.
In addition to MedEvac, most expats choose from these basic types of insurance:
1. International Medical policies are for people who live outside of their home countries either full-time or part-time. These are annual “American Style” long-term, comprehensive medical insurance policies. They come with a long list of benefits and are subject to underwriting – a review of your medical history to determine insurability. International policies are great for families, those without coverage in their home country and relatively healthy people.
2. Travel Medical policies are for a limited term (up to two years), offer less total coverage than International policies, but since you can choose the exact time period you need the protection, they are usually more affordable. Traveler’s policies are great for those who have excellent coverage in their home country, are only here for a few months and for Senior Citizens with preexisting conditions. Traveler’s policies come without underwriting. You are covered no matter your health condition or age – subject to the limitations on preexisting conditions discussed below.
3. “Mexican Health Insurance”: There are a number of insurance programs designed for Mexico and managed by local companies. Like so many of the services here, the longer you are here, the more comfortable you become using these services.
4. Newly on the medical insurance market are Group Medical insurance policies which function somewhat like HMOs in the U.S. The coverage is broad, but the list of acceptable providers is limited. You choose your doctor and hospital or pay a differential for going outside the provider network. Many local employers have group policies for their employees.
5. IMSS – Mexico’s public “safety net.” The most affordable solution, but difficult to qualify for especially if you are 65 or older, and the level of service is “basic.”
Preexisting conditions: Most expats are at or near retirement age and most have a medical history that includes a preexisting condition or two. No insurance company wants to pay for conditions that you had before you signed up. They might not issue insurance to you, or limit the coverage, exclude the condition from your policy and/or require a period of symptom-free time before coverage begins.
Ambulance Services: We are not in Kansas anymore, so don’t dial “911” and expect paramedics and an ambulance to hasten to your aid. Mexico has a different approach to ambulance service than you may be used to. There are several independent ambulance services here. Some are very good, others, not so much. Coverage areas are localized, so you need to ask expats in your building and at your nearest hospital to help you choose a service. Then keep their telephone number on speed dial on your phone!
As with everything related to having an enjoyable stay in Puerto Vallarta, the best source for reliable “real world” information is from other expats. We have a thriving expat community here who are always eager to welcome newcomers and share their experience and hard-earned knowledge.