This Nurse from Nebraska Adores Panama’s Health Care

Back in her home state of Nebraska, Judy Eaton worked as a registered nurse (R.N.) for 40 years. So when she told me how impressed she was with Panama’s health care system, I made sure to pay attention.

I met Judy for lunch in the small mountain town of El Valle on a visit to Panama earlier this year. I was there to speak to expats about what they loved about this small, stunning country.

During my conversation with Judy, it became clear that the freely available and affordable health care on offer was a big part of what made Panama her ideal retirement destination.

Even though El Valle is a small town, free medical treatment is right on Judy’s doorstep—as she explained, that’s the case all over.

“If you go up and down these mountains, all of the little towns have a health clinic in them. If you have a laceration or a sore throat or an earache, they can fix you up and send you out the door. And it’s good basic care. They even deliver babies there.”

Because Judy has attained residence through the Pensionado program—one of the best retiree programs in the world—her treatment at the local clinic is usually free. Occasionally, at these clinics, you will have to pay something toward your treatment. Like a friend of Judy’s who attended the clinic to get a hormone injection. For that treatment, she just had to cover the price of the syringe. Her total cost? A whopping 25 cents!

The local clinic in El Valle doesn’t treat all kinds of ailments, however. For anything greater than a laceration that needs to be stitched or a sore throat that needs medication, you’ll have to attend a clinic that’s about a 45-minute to one-hour drive away.

But that’s not much of a trek for Judy—especially when she compares her situation to that of the folks back home. “You know in Nebraska, there are people who have to go 75 miles just to see a doctor, so I think they do things pretty well down here in Panama.”

For more in-depth care, both Judy and her husband Jim are covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield in America—Jim had the option to retain that coverage when he retired. Given the cost of medical care in Panama, though, the couple haven’t really needed to use it.

Their dental treatments, for example, which they get in the nearby beach town of Coronado, are low-priced enough to be affordable out of pocket.

“To go to the dentist for an exam, X-ray and cleanings, it’s just $28. So you really don’t need to use your private insurance very often at all.”

(If you do want to get private insurance in Panama, by the way, you can. There are a range of insurance providers in Panama—including Blue Cross Blue Shield, which Judy says is far more reasonably priced in Panama than in the U.S.)

For anyone with severe medical issues, El Valle may not be the place for you, Judy advises. If you’re going to require regular hospital care, Judy recommends that living in or near Panama City is the best course of action, as that’s where the country’s best medical care is.

“They have a John Hopkins hospital as well as two others that are excellent.”

Even to a nurse’s trained eye, the care on offer in Panama is high quality—and good care is not reserved for people with insurance, by the way.

“There’s what they call a Social Security hospital in Panama City,” Judy told me. “I’ve seen that one and I don’t think the Social Security hospitals are bad at all. And I can be pretty critical of that kind of stuff because of my background. But the one in Panama City was clean and I thought the care that patients got there although basic was good.”

In fact, Judy says the care that’s on offer in Panama is very similar to the care the couple received in the States. Besides an abundance of English-speaking care providers in Panama, “a lot of the doctors and dentists down here have been trained in the U.S. so it isn’t all that much different,” she told me.

Affordable, accessible, high-quality care that you can tailor to your own needs? It’s easy to see why Judy’s so impressed with Panama’s health care system.

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