Getcher Healthcare Elsewhere, part 2

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I’ve been very fortunate in life. My health has always been quite good. No major injuries, illnesses, or conditions so far! I have strong teeth, nearly-decent eyesight even with out my glasses, and excellent hearing. Aside from stress, I’ve led an exceedingly healthy lifestyle for my whole life.

But there’s one thing that none of my intentionally designed habits can alter — my family history. There are quite few major medical issues on both sides: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. I don’t know how much that plays a factor in my own health, but I know that there are certain things it’s best for me to steer away from given what I came from.

The reason both of my parents are still alive is early detection. I’m starting even earlier than they did because…well, the stakes are pretty high. I like being alive!

That’s why every other year after turning 40, I get a full medical exam. And I mean full! From chest x-ray, to abdominal ultrasound, to blood panel, to EKG, to those beloved over 40 cough-cough kinds. But even with my health insurance that costs me over $400 a month in the US, I can’t get this all covered. Let alone the dental exam & cleaning, or optometry test, or nutritional consultation that come with the package I just got yesterday here in Panama. Let alone be fed a good breakfast and tasty lunch that are much more like restaurant food than hospital food. Let alone be treated like a real person by a friendly and patient staff that actually listens to me. In a Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital, no less!

And even if I could get all that, there’s no place I know in my home country where I could get it all done in one place, in one day…by 2pm! After arriving at 7:30am for a blood draw, urine sample, etc, by 2pm I was sitting in front of the lovely Dr. Dayme Quintero going over all the results of all the exams and consultations from that day, in English, with a printed report I get to keep.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s very real, it’s just in Panama is all.

And it’s not even expensive! For less than I pay for 4-months of health insurance, I get a 24-month insight into what’s actually going on with my body that I can’t see otherwise. I get to build a medical history, trusting relationships, and working familiarity someplace I would actually go to be treated, should the need arise (though I hope it never does).

Plus, because I have a high-deductible health plan back in the US, I’m eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA) which I do my best to max out by depositing $3500 every year. If you’re not familiar with HSAs, they’re basically a way of pre-paying your medical expenses in a tax-advantaged savings plan. So unlike the monthly insult of the lowest premium health insurance I can find (but still somehow costs more than my food budget), my wallet doesn’t feel a thing when I do my bi-annual checkup, the money is already there and waiting.

I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it this way. Seriously.
  • Why would you want to pay more for a lower quality of service?
  • Why would you spend so many hours making and going to all the independent appointments all over the place when you could just do it all in one day and be done?
  • Why would you want to fill out the same mountains of paperwork for every appointment because nobody talks to anybody and they all have their own requirements and nobody wants to lift a finger until your insurance has cleared?
  • Why would you want to spend hours arguing with a for-profit bureaucracy to get them to pay for something they said they would pay for until the moment you asked them to?
  • If you did get seriously sick, would you want to be recovering in the drama of your usual life, or by the beach in a tropical paradise for half what it costs you per month back home?

You don’t need insurance to do what I did. Show up at the hospital here and no one will ask you for it. You don’t need to be a citizen or a resident either (I wasn’t the first time I did this), you just need a passport from your own country for ID purposes. You will need money (cash or credit/debit card), but they use US Dollars here in Panama so there’s not even an exchange fee. What you see is what you pay, just like any bill back home.

I’m not suggesting anyone outright cancel their health insurance. Accidents happen, and that’s what insurance is for. What I’m suggesting is that you not expect your US-based insurance to do anything else. Kind of like Social Security, unless a big nasty surprise hits, I know I’ll pay in WAY more than I’ll ever get back out (if I ever get anything at all). I don’t expect that it will be there when I need it, so I’m making other plans, thankyouverymuch.

The American healthcare system is not breaking, it’s broken. It broke a while ago, and due to the powers that be, I don’t see things getting better for you and me anytime soon. It’s time we find other alternatives. It never hurts to have options anyway, right?

Please know that a world-class experience at a world-class hospital is possible. And it might be a very good idea for you. The program I did is the Standard Executive Checkup at Punta Pacifica Hospital in Panama City, Panama. I’m sure there are others too.

You probably have questions. Perhaps some horror stories to share, or rants to make. Let it out by adding them to the comments below!

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