Why I Didn’t Use Health Insurance in Panama

One of the reasons my husband Clyde and I chose Panama as our retirement home is because it offers high-quality health care, at affordable prices.

Most doctors speak English. A doctor’s visit costs us from about $6 for a general practitioner to $50 for a specialist.

I recently had a hysterectomy. We have reasonable health insurance, but there was a one-year waiting period if I wanted to use it to pay for the surgery. In Panama, we could pay for it out-of-pocket.

This surgery would have cost us $30,000 in the U.S.—but in Panama it cost just $4,500, including a three-day stay in the hospital. Follow-up visits with my gynecologist run anywhere from $25-$35 and his office is just five minutes from home.

I was impressed from the moment I stepped into the Hospital Nacional in Panama City on the morning of my surgery. It was more like a five-star hotel than a hospital. On a glass-topped table in the entryway, a large arrangement of flowers was on display. On the right was a small cafe and to the left an elegant, round reception desk encased in glass.

After the staff had prepped me for surgery, checked my vital signs and started an IV, my doctor came in to chat with me for a few minutes until a female anesthesiologist joined him. She explained in English what type of anesthesia she would use and soon I was wheeled off to the operating suite.

Afterward I was moved into a private room, with a big window, where I’d spend the next few days. A blue leather recliner and couch, a flat-screened television, private bathroom, and bedside table were all mine to use.

As great as all the facilities in the hospital were, the care was even better—even better, in fact, than in the U.S. Unlike U.S. hospitals where nursing staff is hard to find, here dozens came and went from my room each day taking care of my every need. Follow-up care was excellent, too, food was decent and the nursing staff didn’t seem bothered when I asked for something.

My doctor said he’d come to our house to see me if I had any problems once I returned home. And he gave me his personal cell phone number—that’s a common practice in Panama.

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