Quality healthcare is readily available throughout Uruguay. Throughout the country there are 105 hospitals: 56 public hospitals, one university hospital, and 48 private hospitals. It also has its own reputable labs that produce trustworthy generic medications.
Uruguay is not a medical tourism destination or a place where people come for healthcare alone. However, if you fall in love with Uruguay and decide you want to live here; the chances are strong that you will be able to get quality healthcare at an affordable price.
Uruguay’s Public Healthcare System
In the public system the free clinics can be slow and crowded. However, if you have no health insurance and can’t afford to buy it in Uruguay, then these clinics will be a welcome option. Every town has access and they do a good job. This system assures that no one is without quality medical care.
Uruguay’s Private Healthcare System
The private healthcare system is efficient, well-equipped, and inexpensive. They operate facilities that are more similar to what North Americans would be used to. The private healthcare industry consists of a number of independently operated associations. These associations vary in size from a single hospital to a network of hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. Normally you’ll select a facility near you, and become a socio (member). Your monthly premium entitles you to use of their facilities, ambulance service, pharmacy, and specialists in accordance with the plan that you select.
Some will accept Blue Cross and other foreign health plans.
Typically, whatever hospital you join will pay for emergency coverage at another facility if you need care when you’re away from home.
The most popular hospital among English-speaking expats, diplomats, and many rich Uruguayans is British Hospital in Montevideo. Everyone seems to agree that they are the top of the line in hospitals here. They even make house calls in Montevideo, and have English-speaking doctors.
Uruguay’s Health Care Gives Me Peace of Mind
I didn’t move to Uruguay for the health care…but after six years of receiving first-rate medical care at a low and predictable cost, it’s become one of the things I appreciate most.
You can buy health insurance here—but the most popular health care choice in Uruguay is a private “hospital plan.” Unlike health insurance, a hospital plan has no big deductibles, tricky exclusions, or complicated terms.
It’s simple and it works like this: An individual applies to become a member of a private hospital’s plan. Once accepted, the hospital provides the member with complete health care (everything from routine doctor visits to major surgery). In exchange, the member pays the hospital a monthly membership fee and makes a small co-payment when he uses the hospital’s services. That’s all there is to it.
I’ve chosen to avail of the “Hospital Scheme”—the hospital plan provided by the British Hospital in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. My membership fee for this is currently $190 a month. In the U.S., I was paying about three times that—as well as a yearly deductible of $2,500.
It’s proven to be well worth the cost. The first time I needed to avail of the scheme was to see a dermatologist—and my experience couldn’t have been better. Besides the low cost of the visit—my copay was just $7; back home I’ve paid several hundred dollars for the same type of dermatologist visit—the service was extremely professional and hassle-free.
I spent less than five minutes in the waiting lounge. The examination room was spacious enough to include an office desk where the doctor and I had a civilized consultation before and after my treatment. The atmosphere was calm. The doctor spoke English, was thorough, and treated me with respect.
To give you another cost example, two years ago I had to have knee surgery at the same hospital. I paid $200 for a CT scan, a $7 copay for each doctor visit, a $15 copay for blood tests, and a $7 copay for each of the dozen physical therapy visits that followed. My monthly membership fee covered everything else.
You can also tailor the scheme to suit your needs. Members who need medication can either choose to get a 50% discount on all their medications… or can pay an extra $15 per month to get all their prescriptions filled for $15 each.
But the British Hospital is not only the option available for health care. Many other private hospitals in Uruguay also offer hospital plans. They don’t call it a Hospital Scheme, a name which is unique to the British Hospital. Instead, they call their membership plan a “mutualista.”
The average mutualista costs about $85 per month—less than half the cost of the British Hospital. I have many expat friends who are members of a mutualista. They all say they’re very satisfied with the service and care they receive.
However, I stay with the British Hospital plan because it has more English-speaking doctors and staff. The waiting room times are often less. And, it has the reputation of providing the highest quality medical care in the country.
Each private hospital in Uruguay sets its own acceptance standards for new members. Some are strict about age restrictions and preexisting conditions… and some are very lenient. And I’ve never heard of anyone being refused membership to a mutualista plan. Every persistent expat I know has managed to successfully gain membership.