You're going to need health insurance...

Wednesday, September 22 2004 @ 06:55 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

If you're planning on moving to Panama and living here for some time, sooner or later you're going to have a need to use the local healthcare facilities. In order to ensure your access to the best facilities available, you're going to be needing health insurance. A friend of mine who lives here in Panama recently got sick, suddenly and unexpectedly. He's a generally healthy guy, a young 42 or so, who smokes heavily but otherwise was in generally good shape. Then he started to experience some pain in his lower abdomen…

To make a long story short (and to protect his privacy) he ended up spending three weeks in the ICU, went through three operations, and spend a week on a ventilator (a machine breathing for him). He almost died. The good news (actually, the great news) is that he's recovering and getting stronger every day. Sooner rather than later he'll be back on his feet and acting like his old self, thanks in no small part to the skill and training of the doctors and medical staff that attended to him.

The bad news: He didn't have medical insurance. That means he has already spent about $80,000 + on this little lifesaving trip to the hospital, and he will be needing another operation, follow-up care and visits, medicines, labs, tests, physical therapy, etc.

And mind you, he thought he was in perfect health. He was just bopping along one minute, and the next he was hanging on for dear life, literally. In reality, we are all just one turn of fate away from really, really needing some serious intervention by healthcare professionals. Living here (or anywhere) without health insurance is literally like flying without a net.

There are several excellent hospitals in and around Panama City. Personally I use the Hospital Nacional (HN, or National Hospital) which is located in Bella Vista on Ave. Cuba between Calle’s 38 and 39. I use the Hospital Nacional because they make it really easy for me to use my health insurance. I'm retired from the military and use Tricare which is widely accepted here. The other reason for using the HN is because its an excellent hospital, well equipped and staffed, and modern.

If you required any additional information regarding the HN, you can call them at 207-8100 and ask for the International Section. They have and English speaking staff there to assist.

Another excellent hospital in Panama City is the Hospital Paitilla, which is located in Punta Paitilla on Calle Jose de la Cruz (but no one knows the name of that street…) Any cab driver can take you to Paitilla hospital, or any other hospital in the city for that matter.

Paitilla is also an excellent, modern hospital, preferred by many as one of the best in the city.

But rather than spending all my time cataloging all the different healthcare facilities in the city, back to the point: Get Health Insurance.

In Panama, insurance is normally sold by “brokers” who act as the middleman between the customer and the insurer. The brokers are not usually loyal to one insurance company or another, and can quote you a variety of options and different rates of coverage.

The variables in healthcare coverage are usually the age and health of the person to be covered, the type and quality of the coverage, your (as a patients) flexibility to choose hospitals and doctors (or do you have to use the ones prescribed by the insurance company), and the amounts of deductibles. If you are young (20’s to 30’s) in good health, you can get basic coverage for as little as $60 per month and excellent coverage for up to $130 per month. The older you are, the more you'll pay.

But no matter what you do, get some kind of healthcare coverage. Its just a “must have” if you're going to live here.


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