Healthcare in Colombia is a perfect balance of high quality, easy access, and low cost.
When the World Health Organization ranked the healthcare systems of 191 countries, Colombia came in at #22. That is better than Canada (#30) and the United States (#37). On top of this, when financial publication América Economía put together their latest annual list of Latin America’s top 43 hospitals, 22 of those hospitals were based in Colombia. That means that half of the top Latin American hospitals are located in Colombia.
Five of these hospitals are Joint Commission International accredited, the gold standard in world health. Two are located in Bogotá (Fundación Cardioinfantil – Instituto de Cardiología, and Hospital Universitario Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogotá), one is located in Medellín (Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe), and one is located just outside of Bucaramanga (Fundación Cardiovascular de Colombia – Instituto del Corazón).
There are many, many excellent hospitals and clinics all around Colombia which offer services from routine office visits and testing, to complex procedures such as joint replacements, organ transplants, ICU services, and cancer treatment.
Colombia has one Public and many Private health insurance plans. The Public plan is called EPS (Entidades Promotoras de Salud) and it is administered by various companies such as SURA, Comfenalco, and Coomeva. To qualify for EPS, you must have a resident cédula (identity card). The premium cost for retirees is 12% of your pension.
Many retired expats report paying $70 to $85 per couple per month for their premiums with EPS public insurance. This is the same regardless of which company you choose to administer your EPS. Colombia’s healthcare system operates in a similar fashion to a preferred provider organization (PPO). Insurers enter into contracts with specific hospitals and physicians. The insured must seek care within the approved network of providers.
By law, everyone in Colombia must have the same basic coverage, which covers medical, dental, and vision care. If you want additional services, you can purchase a premium policy. It works like building blocks. The basic policy serves as a foundation from which you can build. For example, if you want the freedom to choose your own doctor or specialist, you can obtain it by paying for a premium policy. If you want a policy that will cover more than a basic set of eyeglass frames and lenses, you spruce up your coverage with a premium plan.
The maximum first-time enrollment age for EPS is around 63 years old, although most administrative companies set the cut off at 60. You are covered for life once you are on the plan. If you are over the maximum first-time enrollment age, you can find private insurance companies who will cover you. The rules for pre-existing conditions, maximum age, and physical exam requirements vary from company to company.
EMI, a private healthcare company, provides services in most large and medium-sized cities in Colombia. If you enroll in one of EMI’s supplemental healthcare plans, you can often avoid trips to the doctor or hospital because EMI has a team of doctors and nurses that make house calls, 24-hours per day, 365-days a year.
The EPS public health insurance has a three-tiered system for calculating co-payments for lab tests, imaging procedures, specialist visits, and medications. These rates change in January of each year. The 2016 tiers are $0.80, $3.35, and $8.80. Many of the retired expats fall into the second tier.
Even if you decide to pay-as-you-go, and not sign up for health insurance, your out-of-pocket costs will be quite low. A consultation with a specialist will cost about $50 and you will get an appointment within a couple of weeks, not months.
In Colombia pharmacists provide a greater service than simply filling a prescription. They are trained to listen to your symptoms and make recommendations. You don’t need a prescription for many medications—they can be bought over-the-counter for very low prices.
Dentists provide excellent care at a fraction of the U.S. cost. The larger cities have English-speaking dentists who offer services from a simple ultrasonic cleaning, cavity filling, or whitening, to more complex procedures such as root canals, crowns, implants, and orthodontics. Prices are one-quarter of what you would spend in the U.S.
As part of the rise in medical tourism, people from the U.S. often combine their vacation to Colombia with dental procedures. After a couple of weeks investigating Colombia, they return home well-rested and with a bright smile.