If you’re a Baby Boomer considering retirement in Mexico, it’s important to understand the local healthcare system, especially as we age and health problems can become more frequent.
A striking benefit of the Mexican healthcare system is that a retiree can expect to pay 50% less in Mexico for the same treatments, procedures, and prescriptions received in the United States. But these savings come with a few warnings and additional considerations addressed below.
Though many Baby Boomers harbor misconceptions about healthcare in Mexico, the reality is that the health care system is considered quite good. Generally speaking, the medical facilities and healthcare providers in Mexico are on par with what is available in the United States. In Mexico’s larger cities, including Mexico’s top five expat communities, there are well-maintained and major medical centers. Many of the doctors practicing in Mexico receive the same medical training as their U.S. counterparts – oftentimes at the same medical schools.
Over the last fifteen years, this combination of excellent care and low costs have fostered a movement of “Medical Tourism”, in which U.S. residents plan vacations around receiving medical care in Mexico. These treatments include cancer care, dental care and elective weight loss surgeries. Medical Tourism really underscores the quality, availability, and low costs of healthcare in Mexico and should provide some reassurance to expats looking for local care.
Mexico has a number of federally supported healthcare plans. The two most recognizable are Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) and Seguro Popular. Not all expats are eligible for IMSS and Seguro Popular. If you are an expat living in Mexico and working for a Mexican company, then you will be automatically enrolled in the IMSS program, with a small portion of your wages deducted each month to help pay for your healthcare. If you’re not an employee of a Mexican company, but a legal permanent resident of Mexico, you may be eligible for benefits through Seguro Popular. The cost of Seguro Popular for non-citizens is on a sliding scale and primarily dependent upon your income.
If you do have a medical emergency and do not have insurance through either of Mexico’s federal health insurance programs, it’s best to assume you will have to pay for care out-of-pocket and at the time of your treatment. Fortunately, since so many Americans take advantage of healthcare in Mexico, most providers have all the paperwork you need to be reimbursed by your existing insurance company.
While unusual, there have been cases in which U.S. citizens have been detained until they have been able to satisfy their hospital bills. Don’t assume that your U.S. based health insurance will cover you while traveling abroad. You should always call your provider ahead of time to verify your coverage. If coverage is not available, consider a short-term travel insurance program from another company. Remember, even though healthcare can be a heck of a lot cheaper in Mexico, catastrophic injuries or illness can still generate catastrophic bills.
If you’re on the fence about the affordability of your ongoing private U.S. health insurance, there are private Mexican-based health insurance carriers that cover expats and can quote you a new rate. There are also temporary insurance plans from U.S. providers that can cover you while you’re traveling abroad.
If your sole source of health insurance is Medicare, I’ve got bad news: Except in very rare cases, you cannot use Medicare to pay for treatments received outside the United States. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for Baby Boomer expats in Mexico to revisit the United States for expensive medical treatments and to restock prescriptions.
Travis Luther is a Denver, Colorado writer and educator. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Metropolitan State University of Denver and currently serves as Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Colorado Denver, where he received his Master’s Degree in Sociology. Luther first became interested in Baby Boomers retiring in Mexico during graduate school. His Masters Thesis research contributed to the content in this book. He continues to be interested in U.S. expatriates retiring all over the world and continues to monitor those who have retired in Mexico.
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