Finding Health Insurance in Panama
I received an email in the last couple of weeks from a woman in her 70s. The woman is moving to Panama this month, and suddenly realized: Oops! What about local health insurance?
I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but in reality, a month before you move to Panama is probably too late to get a new health insurance policy issued.
Why, you ask? A ha! Well, this is Panama, and getting new health insurance in Panama can be complicated.
Finding Health Insurance Providers in Panama
Unlike the new healthcare exchanges in the States that are administered by each state, there’s not one place to go and find all the health insurance companies listed in one place on the web. Not in English, anyway.
So, most new expats – that aren’t fluent in Spanish when they arrive – look to a healthcare broker to provide them with a variety of quotes. I’d recommend it, for those new to the Panama market. I won’t promote any certain one, but you’ll find English speaking reps at both Semusa and Ducruet in the city. And there’s a possibility there are others, but both of those have been around for some time.
Pre-Existing Conditions Still a Major Issue in Panama
That’s right. A new health insurance application in Panama will require you to report:
• Any visits to the doctor in the past five years,
• Any surgeries in the past ten years, and
• Any drugs you take or have taken in recent past.
Not only will you be mired in a number of pain-in-the-butt forms to fill out to get your application going, you’ll also be required to take a physical exam.
Unfortunately, we’re not just talking about a pee-in-the-cup type of exam. Nope. This is much more complicated than that.
Here’s a list of the exams a new health insurance policy in Panama requires you to take when you apply:
• A variety of blood tests
• An AIDS test (yes, you have to consent, but the application requires it!)
• A physical exam by a Panamanian physician (which you have to pay for)
• A PAP smear or prostate exam
• An EKG and/or stress test
Tick Tock, Tick Tock: The Waiting Game
If you’ve read my books, you’ve learned by now that efficiency rarely exists in Panama. And, that is very much the case when you are applying for health insurance.
When my husband and I applied for a new policy a year or so ago to replace one we’d had before, the approval process was five weeks. This year, a fellow expat couple applied for a policy through Pan American Life, and the approval process took almost TWO MONTHS. And, even then, the late 50’s husband was approved (with several exclusions lasting up to two years each), and the mid 40’s wife was denied with, “Oh, sorry, you don’t fit our ‘profile’ and therefore, we can’t be approve you.”
I’m not lyin’. The reality is that she’s in menopause and while healthy now, had a few complications in the last five years, and thus, they turned her down. Hmmm. Not surprising as Panama is a very machismo society. I would be surprised if there’s a woman even sitting on their application review panel! (Then, knowing that it’s Panama, such a panel might not even exist….)
So, take note: pre-existing conditions are very much alive and well in the Panama health insurance market, and the local companies are still using them as reasons to decline applications, just like was done in the U.S. for years and years and years.
What’s it cost for a new health insurance policy in Panama?
Of course, the answer to that question depends on your age, and how healthy you are. But here are some examples below, based on a poll of some of our expat friends.
- Couple – him late 50’s, her late 40’s – $2,300 per year with PanAmerican Life
- $350 deductible per person per year, and max of $10,000 per year in coverage (local rates), no international coverage
- Single fellow – late 50’s – $1,430 per year with PanAmerican Life
- Same deductibles as above; only local, no international coverage
- Couple – him mid 50’s, her mid 40’s – $6,600 per year with Worldwide Medical
- This policy DOES include coverage in both Panama and the U.S.
- Panama deductible: $350, US deductible: $1,000 after all Panama healthcare options have been exhausted.
My best advice once you have a healthcare policy in Panama: If you like it, keep it!
A quick Q & A on health insurance and health care in Panama, in general.
Q: Is overall health care in Panama cheaper than in the U.S.?
A: Undoubtedly, yes. A doctor visit can be from $25 and up, depending on where you go. I talk more about the overall health care system in Panama in my second book.
Q: Is health insurance cheaper in Panama than in the U.S.?
A: Undoubtedly, yes. Compare $2,300 per year for the top example above, versus a similar policy in the U.S. that costs $1,300 per month. The challenge – for those of us with advancing age – is that the lower cost is very much a good thing, IF you can get approved.
Q: Are most health insurance plans in Panama HMO’s or PPO’s?
A: Most of them are neither. You normally don’t choose a primary care physician, nor do you have to get a referral to go to a specialist with most local health insurance plans in Panama. But most insurance plans do have a list of doctors, and if you go to one of them, you pay an agreed-upon copay, and if you see someone not not on the list, you pay in cash, then have to get reimbursed, AFTER you satisfy your deductible then, then the old 80/20% split kicks in (again, think 1990’s). Be prepared, the reimbursement can take weeks, and sometimes months.
Q: Can I monitor my own health care plan in Panama online?
A: Sadly, no. Another detail still stuck in the 1990’s, unfortunately. The reality: paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. I think several companies are working on getting their own online systems up and going, but to my knowledge, nothing has been implemented.
And, for those of you starting down the path on the health insurance application process adventure in Panama, good luck!