Monday, December 6, 2010

Mexican Health Care – The Really Cheap Side of Things

The Playa del Carmen Family Health Care Clinic
One of growing forms of generating economic growth in many countries is what's called "medical tourism" which means that people travel to another country to take advantage of better availability, shorter waiting and, most importantly, lower prices, of healthcare. This industry, which is usually treated very closely to tourism rather than healthcare on a government level, has also been gaining a good deal of attention in Mexico. "High quality private hospitals for much cheaper prices than in the U.S., more personalized attention, and virtually no waiting lines," is the presentation, which is not completely off the mark.

What medical tourists may or may not know (or may or may not care about) is that the part of Mexican healthcare they see is just small glimpse of a very broad, and like just about everything else in Mexico, extremely contrasting system, or, more correctly, series of almost unrelated systems that form Mexico's health care options. In fact, the options which are presented to them, are the pricier, prettier, and frillier options in Mexico, which for the majority of residents here in most cases would be considered just too expensive.

Many of the Americans who are up in arms these days about the government controlling their private lives and enterprises would probably like what they see here; if officially there is government control, in reality it amounts to very little, as far as I can see at least. The only one constant control I've seen is that all practising doctors have to have a "cedula profesional" which is a professional I.D. number and certificate which certifies that they have completed the studies and received the degree required to be a medical doctor.

Putting my biases and political views on the issue aside, there are definitely ups and downs; I could write a lot about these (and I will in the future) but to begin, one of the real ups is that really, really cheap healthcare is available. As most socialist-leaning observers would expect, there is definitely a divergence between what's available for the rich, who have the best available on the spot all the time since they can pay for it on the moment, and what's available for the poor, who have to settle for whatever's available, often waiting long, and sometimes not even having access to some services which are readily available nearby, but not to them since they don't have the cash or the credit to admitted to those hospitals. There are a number of hospitals where, if you don't have a credit card on-hand with enough credit to cover the process and considerably more when you come in the emergency door (or the really big insurance plan), you'll be left unattended, regardless of your medical state. Ironically, these are usually considered the best.

On the other hand, there are some amazing surprises where charity or low-priced hospitals are among the best available. Some use income levels as criteria to admitting patients, excluding the rich; others use the medical condition as criteria and charge on a sliding-scale based on income level; others are just a free-for-all, and are used by the poor as well as the better-off who want to save some cash. Unfortunately, these are usually available only in cities. Places like Mexico City will, however, have a very large variety of very specialized, reputable hospitals in these categories.

Recently, I have been making growing use of two services that are very accessible in price; one is the Mexican Institute for Social Security (IMSS), and the other is a chain of discount pharmacies which often have a small doctor's office on premise (if you're Mexican or live in Mexico, you'll know exactly which ones I'm talking about). Tomorrow, I'm going to write about my recent experience with IMSS when my second son was born, and another day I'll write about why I choose to use those little doctors' offices in the pharmacies – the main reason is not always the price.

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