Robin Hodgson / Jim MacDonald Robin Mobile: 52 1 (612) 159-0689
Jim Mobile: 52 1 (612) 167-8976
La Paz and El Centenario, BCS Email Robin Hodgson /

               HEALTH CARE IN LA PAZ, MEXICO

Answers to your questions about the cost, quality and availability of health care services in La Paz, BCS, Mexico

What would happen if I got sick while visiting or living in La Paz? Is medical care here expensive? Is it modern? Is it safe? What kind of health care services can I get here? The answers to these questions can really affect a person’s decision to move to Mexico.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll share some articles written by expats who have made the move to La Paz about their experiences with the healthcare system here. Health care in Mexico is definitely tiered: the less you pay, the less service you get. And as it is with every system, there are both positives and negatives to consider. This is the first in a series of articles we’ll bring you in our newsletters about health care options in La Paz. 

In this series we’ll cover:
 
Option #1  Seguro Popular
Option #2  IMSS
Option #3  Private Hospital Care

Option #4  Private Insurance
 



Option #1  SEGURO POPULAR

Back in 1992, Mexico created a program to provide health care for anyone who does not qualify for employer-supported medical insurance. There are pluses and minuses to the system but it remains a great way to provide you and your family access to wellness.

Known as Seguro Popular, or public insurance, it forms part of the social health protection system administered by the Secretary of Health and the National Health Commission.

Expats in Mexico on either a permanent or temporary visa are eligible for this same coverage at a very low cost.  It is a basic no-frills option, but no one is denied on the basis of pre-existing conditions.  Here in La Paz, the hospital associated with Seguro Popular is the Hospital General Juan María Salvatierra on Avenida de los Deportistas.


We thought you might like to hear about Seguro Popular from someone in our community who has it.  Thanks to Warren Jorgenson for sharing his experience…

In our preparation to retire and move to La Paz, Mexico, we did a lot of research on the medical system and capabilities of the Mexican healthcare system.  We were amazed to find the major hospitals and even the smaller private ones have the same advanced equipment that we were used to seeing back at our trauma center in the USA. We were even more surprised when we started talking with a few doctors and ambulance paramedics to find out that the advanced technology also was out in the ambulances.  We found that doctors go out of their way to find out the root cause of your problem, spending much more time than we are accustomed to for an office visit. And, if you can’t get to the office they will come to your home.  It is strange to have a surgeon come to your house to check on you and also remove your stitches while he is there.  Now you are probably wondering what all of this great care costs.  We had the same question when we came here. To give you an example, my wife and I both worked for state government in the US, so we had really good insurance. When we retired in 2010 we got the bad news: our insurance premium for just the two of us was going to be $1438 per month, ouch!  Now for the good news…

When we got down here to beautiful La Paz and started looking for insurance we were directed to the Segura Popular program, the public insurance for all Mexican citizens. Foreign residents are required to pay a small annual fee based on their ability to pay.  To sign up, we met with some very nice people who asked a few questions about our finances.  We found out that our insurance rate was going to be the highest that the Seguro Popular program had.  Yes, in 2011 the HIGHEST rate was 1417 pesos or about $123 US for the entire year!  In 2017 the same coverage cost only $83 due to the strength of the US dollar!

Now you might be wondering if Seguro Popular is worth it or not?  Is it any good?

                                 
 
 

In 2016 my wife fell and smashed the knuckle on the top of her left femur. We went to the big hospital in La Paz and met with the leading surgeon for these types of injuries.  She spent 11 days in the hospital. Nine (9) hours in surgery!  This was a large six digit hospital bill.   I asked for a few extra tests to be done that were not covered by the insurance, and after getting a discount with my Mexican seniors' card, the total bill when we left the hospital was $83.10 US!!  It would have been $0.00 without the extra tests. 

Any person taking advantage of the Seguro Popular system must learn the norms of hospital protocol and what the hospital expects of the patient. For example, one is expected to bring his/her own pillow and blankets. During the day, patient care is A1, but staff is reduced during evening hours and at night you are expected to have a family member stay with you to help with basic nursing routines.  Once you know these things, you will find the service great. We would rate the quality of service to be an A.  A month after surgery, my wife was walking well, without pain in her hip or bone. 18 months later, she continues with no pain at all from her hip injury and pin repair.

So is Seguro Popular insurance worth it?  I guess you will have to decide that.  To us it was and is a retirement savings account savior!!

  - Warren Jorgenson, Comitan resident

 

              Check back here soon!  Fern Corraini will tell you about her personal experience                                       with Option #2  IMSS  in our series “Healthcare in La Paz”. 


                                                                                           
Option #2  IMSS

An employed Mexican citizen is eligible for a higher level of medical care than the basic Seguro Popular, and this is called IMSS (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social).  IMSS is a system funded equally by the employee, the employer and the federal government.  Luckily, expats are also eligible for IMSS if they meet the medical criteria and pay an annual fee. The main hospitals for this level are the Hospital IMSS on Calle 5 de Febrero and the IMSS specialist hospital on Calle Toronja.

 

How to Apply for IMSS:

Take your documents and photos to the IMSS intake center in the Soriana mall on Abasolo in La Paz.

For each person applying bring the following:

  • passport plus 2 copies
  • Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente visa plus 2 copies
  • 2 copies of your marriage license, if applicable
  • 2 copies of your CURP card
  • 2 copies of your most recent CFE or phone bill in your name
  • 3 passport/visa photographs
  • application form disclosing pre-existing conditions

This entire package will be reviewed, you will be given a basic medical exam and you will be accepted or rejected.  The process will take about a month in total. 

 

Pre-existing conditions that may disqualify you:

  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • organ disease
  • stroke
  • drug or alcohol dependency
  • HIV
  • obesity


If you are accepted by IMSS, you will have medical coverage for as long as you pay your annual fee.  You cannot be disqualified. Obviously, you want to get this insurance while you are still healthy!  However, even with all the necessary paperwork and without prior conditions, IMSS can still deny your coverage and no reason will be given.  You then have the option to apply for Seguro Popular where no one is denied. 

With IMSS all your medical care is without cost.  All prescription medication, the consultations with the doctor, the specialists’ appointments, blood tests, pap tests, mammograms, dental extractions, plaque removal, x-rays etc are all included in your annual fee.  Some level three care is not available here in La Paz, so patients with certain  serious medical conditions will be flown to other cities on the mainland to receive care. For example, back patients might be flown to Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, for surgery, and certain types of cancers will be sent to Guadalajara for radiation.  


 

HOW IS THE QUALITY OF CARE?

This most crucial question is a tough one to answer.  If you ask that about ANY healthcare institution anywhere, you’ll hear good and bad, but my personal experience with IMSS has been excellent, and I have confidence in the medical care I am receiving. I don’t always enjoy the lineups for bloodtests or the time slots for appointments, but that is a small price to pay for full medical coverage.

My partner and I were both deemed eligible in 2011, and we paid 2300 pesos ($120 US) each for the year. The annual premium goes up a bit each year, and when you reach age 60 there is a comparatively large jump.  So now at age 64 it’s 7300 pesos ($370 US) a year.

On Day 1 we were assigned to a certain “door” in the hospital clinic and to the attending doctor there.  Every visit to the clinic we are weighed, blood pressure is taken and height is measured. (That last one always makes me smile.)  

Not long after we became clients, it was discovered that my partner had a heart issue and I had a thyroid problem.   Without IMSS it might have been several more years before we were diagnosed and treatment started.

A few years ago I was concerned about some possible skin cancer.  My doctor sent me to a specialist, and a month later I was in the IMSS specialist hospital awaiting surgery.  Wow, you’d think they were prepping me for a heart transplant...I was as sterile as the operating theater! 2 nurses, 2 surgeons, soft music, and me in my bonnet and boots.  I was thoroughly impressed with the professionalism, organization and facilities. But more than that, I felt treated well…not just another body on the table. Yes, I had to jump through a few hoops to get there, but the care was warm, professional and inexpensive! And that about sums up my opinion of IMSS: It’s not the easiest and fastest route, but it is inexpensive and first-rate.      -Fern Corraini

 

                 The third segment in our series “Healthcare in La Paz” will feature Private Hospital Care.                                                                                  Don’t miss it! 

                                                             SUBSCRIBE HERE