Jackie Lange of Panama Relocation Tours offered some of her perspectives of health care in Panama …

Health Care Costs and Medical Emergencies in Panama

One of the biggest concerns about moving overseas are health care costs, the quality of service and the availability of affordable health insurance.  You’ll be delighted to know that in Panama healthcare costs are low, the quality of service is excellent and affordable health insurance is readily available.  Of course, like anything in Panama, it can vary greatly depending on where you go.

Your health insurance probably won’t travel with you outside of your country, and Medicare does not work overseas.  So, you’ll need to get health insurance in Panama unless you decide to self-insure.  Luckily, healthcare and health insurance are very affordable in Panama as you will see below.

Health Care Experiences

Following are my personal experiences, the experience of tour guests, and the experiences of friends who have come to Panama to seek medical care.
About 3 months after I moved to Boquete Panama, I experienced a lot of pressure in my ear so I went to one of the local doctors.  No appointment necessary.  After a thorough examination, he told me I had a sinus infection and an ear infection.  He gave me a 7 day supply of antibiotics and ear drops.  Plus he told me to take a teaspoon of local honey every day for a month, then at least one teaspoon per week after that.   He also “prescribed” eating 2-4 kiwi fruit every day for 7 days because they are high in Vitamin C. Total cost for the doctor visit and meds…. $10.

That’s $10 total.  Not a $10 co-pay for insurance.

One time I had to go to the emergency room at Hospital Chiriqui in David because I had sharp pain in my right side.  I thought my appendix was busting. I was seen right away.  They took blood tests, urine tests and got an IV started with pain meds.  I was there several hours.  The doctor determined that it was not my apendix.

The total cost was $44.80.  Not a co-pay!

The reason medical costs are so affordable in Panama is because the price is based on what the average Panamanian can afford to pay.  Malpractice lawsuits are rare because Panamanian law doesn’t allow frivolous lawsuits so malpractice insurance is very low cost.   The doctors don’t have to spend a fortune on insurance.  Many doctors in Panama live a simple life. Most doctors in Panama don’t live in a McMansions or drive Mercedes like the US doctors who charge a fortune for their services.  Most doctors in Panama have a no-frills office.

In Panama, a routine doctor visit is $10 – $20 depending on where you live.  A specialist is $40-$50.  Many of the doctors were trained in the United States and speak very good English.

It’s $20 to get your teeth cleaned.  $40 to get your teeth cleaned and a panoramic x-ray.  My daughter got a crown last year, it was $495 total costs.  To get a crown in Texas would have cost $1500 minimum.

Affordable and quality healthcare costs in Panama are one of the many reasons people move to Panama.  And it is the reason some expats decide to self-insure instead of buying health insurance.

However, even health insurance is affordable.  I have worldwide medical insurance which covers me in Panama, in the United States, and any other country and any hospital.  I paid $2400 a year with a zero deductible in Panama and a $1000 deductible outside of Panama.  My insurance also covers $700 a year in prescriptions but I rarely take any medications.  To keep the costs down, you could pay a higher deductible.  International health care companies will allow you to sign up if you are under 73.

WorldWide Medical

There are a variety of different international health insurance companies.  Their prices vary greatly!  It pays to shop around.   We will give you a list of companies during the tour.  If you buy health insurance through a broker, it will cost much more than buying directly from the insurance company.

Recently I renewed my international health insurance with a $5000 deductible.  My strategy is to pay for routine doctor visits out of pocket (because the costs are so low), but have the insurance for catostrophic emergencies like a car wreck injury, stroke, heart attack or cancer.   With the higher deductible,  I was able to get my annual health insurance costs down to $1500 per year.  After the $5000 deductible, I’m covered at 100%.  I should have done this originally!

I used my worldwide medical insurance for two eye surgeries in Panama.  Prior to the surgery, the eye exam was the most thorough eye exam I ever had.  The doctor’s office filed all the insurance paperwork.  I had no out of pocket expense.

To get lab work done you do not need a doctor’s prescription.  During the June 2015 tour, I needed to meet some of the tour guests at the bank so they could open a bank account.  I didn’t have time for breakfast or coffee.  The lab is on the same street as the bank.  Since I had been fasting, I decided to get a complete lab work done.  I got the 25% pensionado discount.

If you are a woman over 55 or a man over 60, you get a 15-25% discount on most healthcare costs including prescriptions, doctors, dentist, lab work.  Even tour guests, who do not have a residency visa, have been able to get these pensionado discounts by simply showing their passport (which shows their age).

You can get health insurance which covers you only in Panama.  This  is more affordable than international insurance.

You can also use the public, or social security, hospital system but be prepared to wait longer and probably not get a doctor who speaks English.   A typical doctor visit at a social security hospital is $1.50.  Instead of driving in to David to a private hospital, a Boquete expat recently got his annual EKG at the social security hospital in Boquete for $15.

In Chiriqui province, there is a medical reimbursement plan which costs about $1 for each year you’ve been alive.  If you are 60, it will costs about $60 a month.  This plan does not cover 100% of most medical costs but they do cover 80-50%.    Pre-existing conditions are not covered the first year but they are covered after the first year at about 50%.  There is no age restriction.  With this plan, you have to pay for the service first, then submit the paperwork to get reimbursed.

I’ve been told by people who live in Volcan that the new hospital in Volcan offers a healthcare plan for $10 a month and 50 cents a doctor visit or $1.50 for an emergency room visit.   Sorry, but I have not been able to find any information online to verify these details.

Every medical specialist is available in Panama.  The US Embassy has a partical list of hospitals and specialists HERE.  Of course there are other hospitals, doctors and specialists throughout the country.

Are You A U.S. Veteran?

Are you a US Veteran?  Because the US military had a presence in Panama for almost 100 years, Tricare and Tricare for Life covers retired veterans and their family in Panama.  Tricare is accepted by doctors at Hospital Nacional in Panama City and at Hospital Mae Lewis in Chiriqui.  Tricare covers most inpatient and outpatient care that’s medically necessary and considered proven. If you visit a doctor who does not accept Tricare, you will need to pay the bill first then file a claim with Tricare.  Until a few years ago, when a retiree or retiree family member reached the age of 65, they were no longer eligible for Tricare. Instead, they were expected to receive medical care under the provisions of Medicare. This changed in 2001 with the introduction of Tricare for Life.

To remain eligible for Tricare benefits, you must enroll in Medicare Part B. This is the Medicare program where you pay monthly premiums in exchange for receiving medical care from authorized Medicare providers.  Under Tricare for Life, you receive your medical care from Medicare providers, but Tricare becomes a secondary insurer and picks up any costs that Medicare doesn’t cover…including all costs in Panama!   You pay no annual deductible or cost-share under this program.

If you are not a retired Veteran you could be covered too.  I have spoken with several veterans who are not retired but get mostly free healthcare and prescriptions in Panama.  In Panama, Healthcare Alliance helps veterans locate pharmacies, hospitals and doctors who accept Tricare.

Medical Tourism in Panama

Affordable and quality health care is the reason some of my friends have come to Panama for medical care even though they don’t live in Panama

After a Panama Relocation Tour a few years ago, Brian Mann came back to Panama for hernia surgery, dental implants and some dermatology work.  You can read about his experience here..

This year Christina Poodt broke a bridge then wanted to get dental implants but it is cost prohibitive in the USA.    She said the cost for implants in Panama is 90% less than what it would have cost her in Atlanta Georgia.  She also added that the doctors in Panama consulted together in the same location and did everything they could to save as many teeth as possible to help reduce her costs.  The dentist in Panama had to pull 3 teeth. The dentist in Atlanta wanted to pull 7 teeth.  Big difference… in pain… and costs!

Another friend from Texas reported …

Just got back from a family reunion.   Two of my cousins went to Panama in April for stem cell therapy.   It is not permitted in the US but legal in Panama.   One had rheumatoid arthritis and he says he is 1000% better.     The other cousin had back pain for the last 20 years and it was GONE!!    It cost $17,000 for each of them.   Insurance not used.   Best money they ever spent.    The hospital where they were said the Mel Gibson’s dad, who is 93 was treated there about a month earlier.   He got out of his wheelchare that he had been in for 4 years !!!

A good friend in Florida had to pay $125,000 to have a stent put in his heart last year.   The same procedure is less than $20,000 in Panama at Hospital Punta Pacifica, the Johns Hopkins affiliate!

Tim moved to Gorgona Panama last year.  In Tennessee, he suffered from severe arthritis which made it impossible to work some days.  But since he has been living near the Pacific Ocean, his arthritis has almost completely disappeared.

Panama is good for your health!

Medical Problems During & After Tour

During the Panama Relocation Tours, we rarely have a medical emergency but they do occur occasionally. These are the emergencies we have had…

About 4 years ago, when we still went to Bocas del Toro during the tours, Soup Campbell cut his finger on a sharp screw on the water taxi.  I didn’t even know about it for 24 hours.  He went to a doctor who cleaned up the area and stitched it up.  The total cost was $50.

Speaking of Soup….about 6 months after Soup moved to Volcan Panama from Fairbanks Alaska, he had a stroke.  He was in Hospital Chriqui for 5 days.  He had CAT Scans, MRIs, 3 different doctors including a neuro-surgeon.  His total cost was a little over $3000.  With no insurance.

Sandra had a tooth fall out of her partial.  She tells her experience … “While on tour and dining in a restaurant eating Pad Thai, I bit down on a peanut and broke the eye tooth off my partial. The next morning Jackie took me to Dr Rivera in Boquete. His office and lab are located in a building next to his home. He took one look at the bridge and the tooth and said no problem. The tooth had to be fused back onto the bridge and I was only there one hour. He did a perfect job and the cost was only $20! I would not hesitate to go to him again.”

After moving to Boquete, Jim was visiting a friend’s garden when a pet parrot bit his ear.  It was bleeding profusely.  He went to the local social security medical clinic where it was cleaned up then stitched up for $1.50

On another tour, a man had been quoted $9000 to get his bridge replaced in Florida.  After the tour he went to my dentist in David to see what the cost would be.  The dentist told him he could fix it for $50. The dentist said there was no need for a replacement.  That’s a $8950 savings!!  Why didn’t the US dentist offer to fix it?

During the February 2015 tour one of the guys enjoyed a little too much free booze at one of the resorts where we stay.  He then took too many Ambien which caused him to have a very rapid heart rate and faint feeling.  The resort called an ambulance to take him to the emergency room in Coronado.  It was $50 for the 15 minute ambulance ride (which included taking him back to the resort). His 5 hour emergency room visit was $128.  No insurance.

On the June 2015 tour, Melanie had a crown come lose.  This is what she experienced. “While on the Panama Relocation  tour, my husband and I had rented a car to explore Boquete. Suddenly a crown just fell out! We called Jackie and within 10 minutes she had us in a local dentist office. Unfortunately, they were very  busy. She then lead us to another office. The female dentist came out and greeted us in English and apologized  because  she couldn’t see me for another 45 minutes. We came back later and she took me into a very modern and extremely clean room.  She was so friendly and actually sang to me while working on the crown! Thirty minutes later she was done. She walked me to the front and charged me $30! No paperwork,  no forms, no insurance … nothing but great service! How refreshing!  Back home, I’d spent that much time filling  out the same forms I  filled out the last visit, and spending more than that on my co-pay!”

Tim Fong came on that June 2015 tour too.   He had not been feeling well ever since the day he arrived in Panama.  He thought it was something he ate but later found out it was kidney stones.  Read about his almost daily experience and costs for emergency room visits. Note that he got a Pensionado discount even though he does not yet have a visa.

  • Clinica in Panama City: Emergency visit with MD: about $26.00 with senior discount plus meds.
  • ER in Coronado (extremely modern and clean facility, ER doctor spoke perfect English)  costs: $52.91 after senior discount.
  • ER in Santiago (not as modern as Coronado, but I felt the care level was acceptable) total costs for x-rays, blood tests, IVs, and doctor’s exams: $44.00.  Taxi ride to ER was $2.50.  The hotel employee stayed with me the entire 2 hour visit and made sure everything was taken care of.  I expressed my deep gratitude for his kind attention towards my needs and tipped him $100.00 (I asked him to buy something nice for his children)
  • Visit with Doctor Chinn in Boquete for stomach pain: $10.00
  • Blood tests at modern lab in Boquete: $26.00 after senior discount.
  • ER in David: ER exam, blood tests, and x-rays, total costs: $75.36 not including meds.  Private car service by Elmer was top notch.  We got to David in less than 20 minutes.  Elmer was apologetic when he requested $75.00 for the round trip fare to David and back to Boquete.  He also stayed with us during the entire hour or so at the hospital.  I expressed my gratitude to him and tipped him $25.00.
  • Follow-up visit with Dr. Chinn to review blood tests: $10.00

Tim said “Like many others, I was curious about Panama’s medical system.  Be careful what you wish for!  I feel the level of services and care ranged from good to excellent.

Medical care in Panama

To be fair, I’m sure you can find articles about people complaining that the medical care in Panama is not so good or that it is not customer service oriented.  You will probably find people who have not received good health care in Panama. Bad healthcare can, and does, happen in the United States, Europe and Canada every year too.

Before seeing a doctor, it is always best to ask other expats who they recommend.  You will usually hear the same doctor’s name come up over and over again … that is the doctor you want to go see.

It has been my experience, and the experience of my friends and all tour guests,  that the customer service and medical care in Panama is as good, if not better, than the United States.  The cost is certainly a LOT better!

Doctors in Panama really put the CARE back in healthcare.  They listen to you,  do a thorough exam, and spend as much time with you as it takes to diagnose your problem.  After any visit to a doctor office or an emergency room it is common for the doctor to give you their cell phone number or home phone number so you can call them directly if there is a problem.  If they have a business card, their cell phone is printed on the card.

Local doctors make house calls too.  In Boquete it is $10 to see a doctor at his office. He/She will come to your house for $25.   Coronado or Panama City prices are usually twice as much.

Of course it is best to PREVENT medical problems!  That’s easier to do in Panama because there is less stress from all the high costs of medical care and health insurance in other countries.

When you move to Panama, if you switch to a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh fish caught this morning… you can improve your health, reduce your waistline, and keep health care costs to a minimum.

Many who have moved to Panama have reported improved health and getting off all the medications they took prior to moving to Panama.

Courtesy of RichardDetrich