My best strategy for health insurance when retiring in Mexico is to also get an insurance policy that covers me in Mexico. It depends on your economic situation and also depends on how close to the border you are.
For most people who retire in Mexico and still have insurance as an American in the United States like Medicare or a Canadian who is still part of the Canadian medical system, the number one thing you want to do is to get home.
People need to be very careful about insurance policies because you read the big print, but you don't read the small print. I always tell people, "When you get any kind of insurance, start at the back and read the restrictions, exclusions, and conditions first, then go to the front because you need to know what you're not covered for."
If it's important for you to go home, you want a good, solid air evacuation program that's going to take you home or wherever you want to go in the United States or Canada without the restriction that you can only be brought to the nearest facility if you cannot be treated where you are first hospitalized. Most of these programs will say, "If you cannot be properly treated where you are first hospitalized, A-B-C or X-Y-Z program will pay to transport you." The next step it says is, "To the closest medical facility capable of treating you."
If you're in Cabo San Lucas and you break a hip or have a heart attack and they take you to some smaller hospital there, this smaller hospital will treat you immediately with what they can do, but they really don't have the facility to treat you further. You have an insurance policy that says that their legal obligation if you can't be treated where you are currently is to move you to the closest facility that can treat you further. Nine times out of ten, they will bring you to the new H+ hospital, which is a magnificent medical center with everything in that hospital that you can imagine.
I've toured the H+ hospital twice and have gone there to see a couple of doctors. They've got a medical office building with all kinds of doctors next to the big hospital.
The transport insurance program's only obligation is to get you to the H+ hospital. If you wanted to get back home, you want a program that sits on top of anything else you have that's going to guarantee that you get to a medical facility in the United States or Canada.
I use myself as an example because my American home is in Scottsdale, Arizona and there happens to be a Mayo Clinic right here in Scottsdale. I tell people, "If you're visiting me in Scottsdale and we go to lunch, have a couple of glasses of wine, and step in front of the Scottsdale Trolley and get mowed down and the paramedics take you to the Mayo Clinic, you may very well want to stay there because it's like being in a spa." However, if you're visiting me from Seattle, Washington, your family would probably prefer to have you back home where they could visit and keep an eye on you. Your insurance would never pay to take you back home because that's just not part of their contract.
For medical care in Mexico, there are some very fine insurance policies that you can get that are very affordable because medicine and medical care is less expensive in Mexico. You can get a policy that covers you as an expat or even as a frequent visitor. If you're coming back and forth, you can get a policy that covers you specifically for healthcare in the country of Mexico. That's something that you would definitely need to have if you did not want to go home or even if you just wanted to have a cushion to make sure that you would have the option to just stay in Mexico or go back home.
There are age restrictions in Mexico on getting insured. Don't wait until you're too old. There are some policies that you must take out before you're 65 years old. Other policies, you must take out before you turn 75.
One thing I would request people not to do for a couple of reasons is to enroll in Mexican insurance programs that Mexico has for their own citizens. This probably will go against other people giving advice about insurance in Mexico. There are programs in Mexico called "Seguro Popular" (the popular insurance), which is for the working class or low income class people. There's the "Seguro Social" (Mexico's social security program handled by the IMSS). As expat residents, you can actually pay for those programs and they will cover you. It's cheap for Americans and Canadians to sign up for these programs.
First of all, on a moral basis, and this has nothing to do with being an insurance agent, foreign visitors to Mexico should not take advantage of these systems even though they're very inexpensive because the hospitals are oversaturated already. They're trying to take care of their own people. I've been in these Seguro hospitals and some of them are new and very nice.
I've gone into health because when I had my youth group, I had 36 kids in my group and I would help the kids and their moms. It would just be so sad to go in the waiting room of one of these hospitals. The locals get in line about five or six o'clock in the morning to take a number. They are so sick or carrying sick babies. Everybody's coughing and sneezing. If you're not sick when you go in there, you're going to be sick when you come out. The people wait for hours and hours.
One of my friends in Puerto Vallarta and her son decided that they would make sandwiches with sliced Mexican ham and mayonnaise, put them in little bags, and buy cases of water. They go around the waiting rooms and hand out sandwiches and water. Some of the locals are afraid to get some because they think they need to pay. My friend says, "No, gratis (free of charge)." There's no food and water for them in the waiting rooms and the locals sit there for hours. It's just sad that these Mexicans are so poor and they don't have any other option because they're so sick.
We had one of our air-evac members fall and break his hip and they took him to the Seguro hospital in Guadalajara, but nobody knew that he had been taken there. His gardener found him fallen on the ground, called an ambulance, and took him to the hospital. He was an elderly man who was out of it. He didn't ask the medical personnel to phone anyone so none of the gringos knew that he was there.
Finally, somebody realized that they hadn't seen the old guy and tracked him down. He'd been laying on a gurney in the hallway with a broken hip for three days. They gave him food and water while he was lying down in the hallway. The point is that the hospital was just so oversaturated that they could not attend to him. They did not even have a bed to put the poor, old guy in.
You really do need private insurance. If you're going to move to Mexico, put that in your budget as part of what you need. I'm always open to help people and give advice on which program and insurance policy would fit their needs the best and interview people personally because there's not a one-size-fits-all policy.
Here in the United States, people are always complaining, "These immigrants come over here and they suck up our services, get to use our emergency rooms, and we pay for them." If you're an American and you think about that, the fact that these poor immigrants come over to America to get jobs and the employers abuse them so much that they don't provide them with any medical benefits on these jobs. Americans, through our taxes, end up paying for the medical care of people who are desperate and go to our emergency rooms when they are sick or they have sick children.
As a responsible person going to live in another country, make health insurance a part of your budget and plan to take care of your own medical needs either out of pocket or through private insurance you purchased.
(Patient being transported via Travel MedEvac,Mexico, pictured.)