This article will address all aspects of health care in Panama, in what areas of the country have different levels of access to health care and how you can protect yourself with different levels of insurance. Health Care is undoubtedly one of the most contentious issues for an expat thinking about moving to Panama. Many expats from countries like Canada and some European countries have a tough time with this, as their country has universal health care, and they cannot imagine having to pay for it. Counties like the USA, health care is always on their mind, and is already a big chunk of their monthly budget.
First, lets discuss the system in Panama. Panama does not have universal healthcare, well at least not for people that are not part of its working economy, I will explain this in detail later.
The Public Health Care System in Panama
This system is funded by the Ministerio de Salud, (MINSA), (Public Hospitals) and the Social Security Fund (Caja de Seguro Social) (Social Security Hospitals). They currently run over 850 facilities in Panama, from Doctor offices, small clinics to full hospitals. The funds come from government and employees and employers contributions. In 2014, 3.5 million of Panama’s 4 million people were covered by this system, and it provided low cost health serves for those who were not covered.
If you are an employee, or business owner in Panama, paying in to the Social Security fund, you can use the Social Security system for free. Also Panamanian retirees receiving social security also have access to this health care system. If you, as an expat, come to Panama on a visa like the Friendly Nations Visa, or employment Visa, you may also have free access to this health care in Panama, if you are paying into social security. Anyone can use the public system and pay for it.
The way this Social Security system is funded, is through pay checks. The employer deducts a certain percentage from the employees paycheck, or their own paycheck, there is a percentage match contribution from the employer, and the employer submits that money to Caja de Seguro Social, on a monthly basis, similar to payroll deductions of other countries. It is not that organized here yet, every month the employer has to get a certified check, cash or bank check for the proper amount your accountant gives you, and stand in line at an office, and pay. You can designate someone else to do this for you, or your accountant will do it for a small fee.
Those that are not covered by social security, like contract workers, self employed who opt not to join the program, tourists and expats living here not employed, can use the public health care system on a pay for service method. The costs are very inexpensive, with prices like $3 doctor visits, $5 specialists visits, $5 physio therapy sessions. An incident like a broken bone, including visits, x-rays, casting, care, removing casts can cost as little as $30 for the entire ordeal. If you do not have the $30, you can arrange with the hospital for monthly payments.
There are some problems with this system, including long wait times, old buildings and equipment, no private rooms if you are hospitalized, lack of doctors in specific fields, lack of some prescription drugs, and just maybe not the experience someone from North America or Europe could handle, or get used to. I am not going to knock down the public health care system in Panama, as I know many that have used it and have been happy with it, but after I explain the Private system below, it may help you make a decision to get the care in Panama, more like you are used to.
The Private Hospital System in Panama
The private hospital system in Panama is considered by some to be world class and one of the best in Latin America. Hospital Punta Pacifica is a hospital in Panama City, Panama, and the only hospital in Central America to be affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International. This hospital attracts medical tourism from around the world. There are private hospitals through out Panama, including several in Panama City, two in David.
With the private hospital system, you either pay for the service or be covered by private insurance, which we will discuss later. There are many private doctor offices, clinics and labs through out Panama. The cost in these places vary, but according to North America standards, are quite inexpensive. For example, doctors visits can cost $12, specialists, $30, blood tests, $15, x-rays $18. English speaking doctors are common in the private hospital system.
Insurance options in Panama
If you have a big bank account, this can be an option for you, but you should have $100,000 plus, per person, set aside for healthcare in case of a bad accident, or a disease like cancer.
High Deductible Self-Insure
There are several options here, but the higher your deductible, the lower your premiums. A deductible like $10,000 – $20,000 can cut your monthly premiums in half. I have a similar plan to this. A $1,000 deductible in Central America and Colombia, where I spend 99% of my time, and $10,000 deductible worldwide. I am 55 years old, and I pay $108/month
A plan like this is very popular with expats, with zero delectable in Panama, and a small deductible worldwide, like $1,000 or $2,000. A plan like this will cost a 60 – 65 year old, about $2500 a year.
Also a popular plan with expats here, you pay for things like doctors visits, broken bones, prescription drugs, minor things, and the insurance kicks in with a car accident, heart attack, disease, etc. I know 65 year old’s, that pay less than $75 a month for insurance like this.
Over 70 year old co-pay with Private Hospitals
Even if you do not qualify for full plans because of you age, private hospitals in Panama offer insurance to all ages, with a co-pay program.
If you are interested in more information on health insurance in Panama, please go HERE and fill out a form, and we will connect you with who we at Retire in Panama Tours believe is the best choice for insurance in Panama. You will be looked after and given the choices you need.
Levels of health service through out Panama
In Coronado they have a very good private clinic, La Clínica San Fernando, some call it a hospital, but it really is just a clinic, but it does have an emergency room, and is affiliated with a hospital in Panama City. In Boquete the hospitals are 30 minutes away in the city of David, but there is a polyclinica equipped for emergency care to help get you ready for an ambulance ride to David. There is a new larger polyclinica being built in Boquete, but construction has been delayed and the government has not confirmed when it will be complete.
There is a new public hospital in Pedasí, which was much needed, it is called Minsa-Capsi hospital. Now, they do not do major surgeries, but they are equipped to handle many emergencies, and get you transferred to a major hospital. Communities like El Valle de Anton and Santa Fe, are serviced with polyclinicas with major hospitals 30 minutes away. Las Tablas has a public hospital serving it and the surrounding area.
One of the problems for expats in Panama is the lack of 911 service. There is 911 in major cities, but it is in Spanish only, and not nearly as sophisticated as in North America. If you cannot give exact directions, in Spanish, to your location, no one is coming. And in Panama there are basically no street names or house numbers in residential areas. Many of the expat communities have solved this problem, but having private “911 type” service.
In Boquete we have one of these service. You register with them, pay $80 a year, fill out a detail profile with everything from your house location, car description, dog sitters contact, (in case you are taken to the hospital) and you receive a numbered sign to put on your front gate. They have 24 hours service in English and Spanish and you can call them for any emergence, health, crime, or just an informative emergency, like power line down on your street. It is excellent value for your money for the peace of mind you will receive with it. Most of the larger expat communities have services like this. It is also very good to get to know your neighbors in case you have an emergency, or they need your help.
I would like to bring up one more topic, as a Canadian I am from socialized health care system, and many European and other countries can relate. I have done a full analysis since I have live here, and I actually pay less here for total health care, with insurance, and get better service. If I need a MIR, I can probably get it done this week, not so much back in Canada.
I lived in British Columbia, Canada, and I had to pay a monthly premium of $59 to be covered by Canada’s free health care system. I paid for all my prescription drugs, dental and eye care which was not covered. In Panama, I pay $108/month, prescription drugs are cheaper, dental and eye care is ¼ the price here, than it is in Canada. So, in the end, I feel I pay less here for my total health care then back in Canada.
So now that you have learned about health care in Panama and your insurance options in Panama, I hope you feel more at ease that you can be provided good health care when you decide to move or retire in Panama. When you come on one of our Retire in Panama Tours, we will be discussing health care a lot, and meeting with an expert in the health insurance sector to size up your needs here in Panama.