Health care is sort of a controversy here in Panama. Most of the time, you can go to a hospital or a health care clinic and they will treat you with little or no charges. There are only specific situations where you really have to pay. Most people here do not even have a health insurance because it almost makes no sense for you to even pay for one since the hospitals or clinics will accommodate you anyway even without health insurance. There is even a hospital in Panama City that specializes in cancer treatment and they treat any patient just as they would treat someone who has health insurance. When the tests are done and you are ready to go home, they will give you a bill, and you can pay it in full, if you can afford it, but if not, then you can pay it in time.
Twice, I have been to the Ministry of Health, which is the public clinic here in El Valle de Anton, Panama, but the clinic charged me almost nothing. The first time I went there, I stayed in the clinic for four hours with a doctor and two nurses, and they charged me US $10. The second time, they did not charge me anything at all. My neighbor, who has cancer, was in the clinic for eight days. She has gone through a lot of tests and her bill only came up to about $200.
Getting health insurance coverage here in Panama is something that people have to analyze themselves based on their health conditions as it is not the same for everyone. You do not necessarily have to have health insurance here in Panama, and many people don’t. However, if you want to have health insurance, you can absolutely get one.
Because I am a very active person, I try to influence other expats here to exercise more and drink plenty of water just as they should regardless of where they live. I also believe in alternative health care, eating well, and staying fit, and because of that, I am not big on surgeries, radiation, or chemotherapy. Therefore, even if I have a health insurance policy that would cover these procedures, I will not opt for them. Personally, I am not that concerned that I would be spending a lot on health care here in Panama and if I will have to in the future, I do have insurance through Social Security anyway.
Medical care in Panama´ is an issue for all residents, especially retirees, as well as for visitors. To begin with, the government offers a courtesy emergency medical plan for all visitors for their first 30 days in the country. The brochure is available upon arrival at the airport.
Second, Panama´ is lately considered a favorite destination for medical tourism. Panama has highly rated medical medical staff, many of whom have international bilingual post-education studies, including in the areas of spa techniques and homeopathic, holistic, and other methods of alternative medicine.
Third, many hospitals offer all-included medical plans, at competitive prices.
There are also the regular insurance policies that a variety of private companies offer at coverage and prices of your choice. Just ask for information and make a comparative chart of benefits, prices, exclusions and if benefits will be reduced or payments increased should you need any important long term treatment or hospitalization, which is what happened in our case.
Many expats and VFW are very satisfied with a plan at Clinica Nacional, which has a special international department for that.
Another good suggestion might be to contact your embassy for references, as individual experiences are based only on individual needs and every case is different, and before you sign any contract, be very careful that you fully understand the "small print".
But if God forbid you might have any emergency before you have your medical plan, you always have your first 30 days coverage, and after that, you have St. Thomas Hospital as well. It is a state hospital, maybe not as fancy as a private one, and the waiting period might be longer, but it has excellent care with doctors the same as in private clinics, and it has one of the best trauma centers.
[Editor’s note: According to a press release August 1, 2014, the Panama Authority of Tourism stated that no charge tourist insurance coverage is no longer being offered.]
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