Health Care in San Pedro
Options for Health Care
Guest Blog by Ron DeValle
Depending on where you are in your stage of life, healthcare and medication may or may not concern you. As retirees not yet Medicare eligible, it was a significant concern to us. Additionally, we both have some critical medication needs so forethought and planning was definitely needed. Regardless of your health needs you will need proof of certain vaccinations in order to apply for residence under the QRP, (Qualified Retirement Persons). It is also advisable to see your doctor before leaving the states and consult with them regarding any suggested vaccines.
Of the many things that Belize is known for, healthcare is not one of them. There are a couple of doctors on the island and just recently, Belize Medical Associates opened a clinic here on the Caye upping the quality of care for islanders significantly. If you have a cold, strep throat, cuts and bruises or even a broken bone or two you’ll be fine. If you have anything significant like a chronic illness, a heart condition or cancer concerns, you’ll want to look beyond the border of Belize for the best quality care. I say this not to disparage Belize’s healthcare but as a matter of fact when you look at healthcare worldwide.
Health Care Coverage
Annette was still working for her corporate employer so we were still covered under her health plan. Beyond that we had access to continued insurance through them until becoming Medicare eligible which happened for both of us this year. For those of you not able to access medical insurance from the states, there are other options giving you access to quality care. There are a number of international policies available that cover varying degrees of coverage needs with proportional premiums. Some will even cover emergency medical flights to the states. I haven’t shopped these so I can’t be much help in providing guidance. For those not wanting to shoulder the hefty premiums charged by these carriers, there is another option that many on the island have used successfully. Mexico has excellent health care and it is quite affordable and available through various concierge sources. You’ll pay out of pocket and therefore be self insured. The place most frequented by islanders is Merida, Mexico. It’s about a six hour bus ride but, when you get there, you’ll be greeted by your concierge who will handle accommodations, appointments, transportation, billing and even language translation. We have multiple friends who have used this option with very satisfactory results.
Trips Back Home
If you plan to keep your insurance in the states or are eligible for Medicare, you’ll need to schedule your trips home to see your local doctors. The good news for us is that we still see all of our regular doctors and when we travel back we can easily find friends to put us up for a few days. As we both have pre-existing conditions, we generally plan 2 trips a year and see all of our doctors within a few days including the dentist and eye doctor. I’ve even traveled back for emergency surgery due to a severe injury I sustained on the island. Now that we are on Medicare with additional supplemental insurance, we continue to see our same group of doctors.
With that under control you’ll need to consider prescription refills for any of your regular medications. In Belize, you can pretty much walk into any pharmacy and request any medication you need without a prescription. Some are very inexpensive but others are not. Additionally, not all of the medications you ask for will be coming from the sources you are used to. Many come from places like Nicaragua where the quality is unknown. A few of the medications we take were simply not available at any price.
In planning our first year, I contacted our insurer and explained our intentions to be away for an entire year. What I found was that you could request a vacation override on any 90 day script giving you an additional 90 days. The next 180 days had to be approved by a management review which took a week or so but in the end, we left with a full years worth of medication for both of us packed in one of our carry on pieces of luggage. We repeated that the following year but hit a snag this year when we moved to Medicare. Medicare will NOT under any circumstances authorize any medication for more than 90 days. At this point we are still trying to figure out how to get refills authorized and shipped in time to keep us supplied so check back with me in another few months to see what we worked out.
In the next issue we’ll discuss shipping for the things you couldn’t take in your luggage and mail forwarding for those things that can’t be handled by online bill pay or email.