Navigating the healthcare system in Mexico isn’t easy. The US embassy even has a page or two available for hospitalized citizens in Mexico and a list of Air Medical Evacuation Services if needed in the worse case scenario. Unfortunately, air ambulance service is not covered by most insurances and must be paid for upfront. In the event of emergency air evacuation, having an insurance policy that covers the cost, would be a good idea.
For none life-threatening medical scenarios, however, with a few bits of information and a little practice, you’ll be sailing through these high changeable medical seas in no time. The good news is that Mexico has universal health care which is divided into three categories. Seguro Popular is for residents without formal employment. IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social) is provided by employers. ISSTE (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado) is only for government workers. Even as a foreigner, you may be eligible for coverage under one of these three setups.
Here’s How to apply for Seguro Popular:The head of the household should take an official id (INE, passport, driver’s license) to the affiliation office which you can find by entering your state and municipal here. If you are not a Mexican citizen, you can use your temporary or permanent residency card. You will need to present a comprobante de domicilio reciente (proof of residency such as electric bill, phone bill or predial). If you live in an area with a population less than 250 residents, you can ask for a letter from the local authorities to verify your address. In our area, this letter can be requested from an office in the presidencia (town hall). You will also need the CURP (Clave Única de Registro de Población) for each member of the family. If including an unmarried son or daughter between the ages of 18 and 25, you will need to present a comprobante de estudios (proof that he or she is a student). If you are renewing your policy, you must present the expired policy. You’ll get a sheet with a barcode on it. Keep this, it’s your póliza (policy). You’ll need it for every transaction. I’ve seen some people laminate their policy but just slipping it into a plastic sleeve should do the job. The policy has the expiration date, family members covered and whether there is a co-pay or not. No contributiva (non-contributive) means there is no co-pay for most treatments. You might also get a little booklet that lists what Seguro Popular will cover. It’s helpful but there seem to be yearly changes so your booklet might not be up to date. When you go for appointments, take the policy, your CURP (which also has a barcode) and your official ID. If you do not qualify for coverage under these three groups, you can apply to a private insurance company. This is not a comprehensive list, just a place to start. Check each company’s requirements to see if it would meet your medical needs and if the private medical facilities accept that particular insurance.
- GNP Grupo Nacional Provincial
- Inbursa Inburmedic
- La Latinoamericana Seguros
- Mapfre Seguros Tepeyac
- Plan Seguro
- Seguros Atlas
- Seguros Monterrey
If medical insurance still seems beyond your financial grasp, take heart. Medical procedures in Mexico are often a fraction of the cost when compared to the United States. In fact, the prices on some procedures are so good, a whole tourism industry sprouted up to take advantage of them. And that’s just with major health issues. Most farmacias (pharmacies) have a doctor available for consult for around $40 pesos for minor medical emergencies like colds, stitches, scorpion stings, or a bean up the nose. So where can you go for treatment? If you live near Mexico City you are in luck. CDMX (Mexico City) has several high-quality hospitals including the Hospital de la Mujer and Hospital Nacional Homeopatío. Several states also boast having a Hospital Regional de Alta Especialidad. There are even three hospitales psiquiátricos in Mexico should you or someone you love need to avail yourself of their services. If you live in a rural area and you have Seguro Popular, your first stop will be at the hospital comunitario (community hospital). Don’t expect to be able to waltz right in and see a doctor. Head to the information desk and ask what the procedure is. You ought to do this before anyone needs a doctor. Go in for a family checkup. Everyone will get a routine physical and a little booklet to keep track of appointments. More importantly, you’ll be in the system so making an appointment gets just a bit easier.
If your condition is more than that hospital comunitario can handle, you’ll be given a referral to the closest hospital regional or general. You’ll need to head there and find out what the procedure is for making appointments as well. You can ask the security guard to send you in the right direction. Odds are you’ll need to head to Archivos (archives) first. Be aware that each department has its own process. There’s one process for seeing the doctor but a different process for getting lab work done. Keep asking until you understand what it is you need to do. Expect this procedure to change. The newest little hoop to jump through at the hospital I go to is to have the head chemist sign off on your prescription before you can pick it up at the pharmacy. Of course, she isn’t always there. In fact, she’s only there about 2 hours in the morning. So getting your prescription filled is just that much harder. Pharmacies outside of the hospital don’t typically ask for prescriptions. This makes it much easier to avoid the long and tedious process in order to get medication, especially for chronic illnesses. The best approach is to have an empty bottle of the medicine you need and hand it over to the pharmacist. Ask if there is a generic version and you can save even more money. If you aren’t sure, take a list of the generic varieties that you’ve downloaded from the internet with you.
If you aren’t exactly sure what you need, ask the pharmacist to recommend something for the symptoms you describe or go ahead and get a consultation from the doctor next door. Wait time is typically less than 30 minutes. If there’s a long line, it’s not much effort to find another consultorio adjoining a different pharmacy. Of course, you can always find a private doctor if you have the means. You’ll get more personalized service and I’ve heard some doctors even make house calls. You might even have round-the-clock service via the doctor’s personal cell phone. Some areas have a Red Cross facility. This might be your best bet if it is a real emergency. There is a paramedic on call at all times and usually an ambulance. Arriving at a hospital in an ambulance will cut through the red tape for admission. However, be aware that the Red Cross is not a charitable organization. There are fees involved for everything, including the ride to the hospital, and you’ll need to pay up front.
Another thing you might not expect is you’ll have to line up your own blood donors if you require surgery even if you aren’t going to get a blood transfusion. If you are in an accident, that requirement might be waived temporarily but know that you will be expected to get a certain amount of “replacement” blood before being released. If there’s anything I’ve learned in navigation the medical ocean in Mexico it’s that you need to be your own best advocate. That may include getting your own blood work done at private laboratories, doing some intensive research on the internet, translating it into Spanish and handing it to your doctor. Don’t meekly go along with diagnosis or treatments before checking out alternatives and in some cases, the facts. Don’t allow your level of Spanish mastery to interfere with your health. Bring someone to interpret if need be. Being your own advocate won’t make you the most popular patient in the waiting room, but it might just make you the healthiest.