An understanding of available healthcare, its standards, its costs, and how to gain access to it, is a key priority for anyone thinking about relocating to another country. Those considering moving to Mexico should be aware that in addition to the county’s excellent private healthcare services, the Mexican government also operates a public (universal) healthcare system which is assessable for foreign nationals who are registered as residents of the country. This article offers an overview of public healthcare in Mexico, its main advantages and drawbacks, and a brief insight into Mexico’s private healthcare sector.
IMSS Public Healthcare in Mexico
There are two main types of public healthcare in Mexico. Altogether, Mexico’s public healthcare programs operate about one-third of Mexican hospitals. The first and the main type of public healthcare in Mexico is the IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social)–Mexico’s social security institute.
Under normal circumstances, all Mexican employees working in Mexico’s private sector are automatically enrolled onto the IMSS scheme. Those enrolled are required to make compulsory financial contributions to the scheme each month. This contribution is automatically deducted from an enrolled participant’s wage slip and is supplemented by additional contributions made both by employers and the Mexican government.
Both temporary and permanent residency status expats are welcome to apply for voluntary enrolment on the IMSS. Applications are made by filling in paper or online forms. Applicants unable to speak, read or write in Spanish should consider hiring an interpreter to assist them during the application process, which can be complex, lengthy, and may involve several visits to your local registration office. Completion of the application process and acceptance onto the scheme is required before expats can access any of the services run by IMSS public healthcare in Mexico.
Affordability is one major advantage of the IMSS scheme. Currently, the participation fee is approximately $40 per person, per month. This fee covers the cost of almost all treatments and medicines available on the IMSS program.
Another benefit of the IMSS scheme is the quality of its doctors—although this benefit extends to the doctors practicing in public healthcare in Mexico as a whole and those working in Mexico’s private healthcare sector too. The majority of Mexican doctors undertake their training in the US and Europe. Almost all are therefore of a world-class professional standard.
Although the IMSS program operates a number of excellent hospitals in Mexico’s various big cities, and the standard of public healthcare throughout Mexico is generally at least reasonable, standards do vary from region to region. Crowded wards and a lack of medicines and other essential supplies are problems that abound in some public healthcare hospitals, especially in rural provincial areas.
The majority of Mexico’s public healthcare hospitals also leave much to be desired by way of amenities. Most provide little more than a scrape above the essential necessities. Don’t expect call buttons, and definitely do not expect TVs. Meals are not a given, and nor is access to a telephone. In some public healthcare hospitals, patients are expected to bring their own pillow and provide their own toilet paper. Bear in mind, too, that few employ the services of staff who attend to non-medical personal needs. Should the necessity arise to remain hospitalized for an extended duration, you may have to enlist the helping hand of a family member during your stay. Language barriers may pose further issues.
Another drawback of the IMSS scheme is that membership is barred to those suffering from a particular pre-existing medical condition. Among others, these conditions include addiction, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The full list can be found here (Spanish only). The IMSS does accept applicants with certain other pre-existing conditions, but the affliction of any serious or long term pre-existing condition is likely to lengthen the application process. Anyone suffering from one or more of the pre-existing medical problems that prohibit enrolment on the IMSS scheme, but still wish to gain access to public healthcare in Mexico must instead apply for the country’s other main type of public healthcare: Seguro Popular.
Seguro Popular Public Healthcare in Mexico
The Seguro Popular program provides medical treatment to those that are ineligible to enroll with IMSS. Generally, this ineligibility will have arisen because the applicant suffers from one or a number of pre-existing medical conditions, is unemployed or is struggling with finical difficulties. The membership fee for Seguro Popular ranges from $0-$500 per year. The fee’s exact figure is dependent upon the applicant’s financial means to pay for their membership. Applications to enroll with the Seguro Popular scheme are intended to be completed by the heads of households. The applicant has the option to extend their membership to cover the other members of their immediate family.
Foreign nationals with either temporary or permanent resident status can apply. Seguro Popular, however, is only recommended for expats with any of the pre-existing conditions that negate their possibility of enrolling on IMSS. The Seguro Popular program runs its own clinics and hospitals throughout Mexico, all of which are entirely separate from those that operate under the provision of the IMSS. Seguro Popular facilities and care are both often very basic.
Public Healthcare in Mexico: Local Pharmacies
If you are short on time or suffering from familiar or trivial ailments, local pharmacies are a quick and convenient alternative to public healthcare in Mexico. They stock and supply all manner of prescription medication, almost all of which is available for purchase over the counter. The only medications that local Mexican pharmacies will not sell unless presented with a doctor’s prescription are narcotic substitutes and antibiotics.
Unless you have an IMSS or a Seguro Popular issued a prescription, you will need to pay for your medicines. Local Mexican pharmacies, however, retail their medicines at prices up to 50% cheaper than their counterparts in the US. Many also employ on-site doctors. These doctors provide free, or negligibly priced there-and-then consultations. They can issue prescriptions where necessary.
Private Healthcare in Mexico
Although public healthcare in Mexico is the main focus of this article, Mexico’s private healthcare system is also worth mentioning. The private healthcare sector operates about two-thirds of Mexico’s hospitals and provides the country’s best available healthcare. In Mexico’s large cities, the majority of the private healthcare facilities and services are of an excellent standard–often superior to those in the US. You are very unlikely to encounter any of the issues of language barrier or inadequate supplies, amenities and non-medical care found in some of the hospitals run by public healthcare in Mexico if you opt for treatment at a private Mexican hospital.
Prices vary from place to place, from practice to practice, and from company to company. They are, however, almost always cheaper comparative to healthcare rates in the US. That being said, prices for private healthcare are significantly more expensive than the fees required to access public healthcare in Mexico. Private healthcare can be paid for out of pocket, or, as is more common, by taking out an insurance policy. The more comprehensive your cover, the better the services you will have access to, and the less you will need to worry about the size of your bill. If you plan to cover yourself with a private healthcare insurance policy it is also a good idea to consider including medivac coverage.
Public healthcare in Mexico is affordable and is generally of at least an adequate standard. It provides a useful, and an excellent value means for attending to basic, everyday medical issues. But expats that can spare a little extra provision for their medical care, and especially those that bare the burden of pre-existing, chronic or complex illnesses, should consider looking into taking out an insurance policy that grants them easy access to Mexico’s world-class private healthcare. Expats with existing conditions should also consider seeking the services of a reputable specialist.
If you have been struck by an urge to move to Mexico, but are yet to decide which part of the country takes your fancy, have a read of our quick guide to the best cities in live in Mexico.
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