I walk into the Clínica de Salud and feel the growing pains, and situational uneasiness of being an immigrant. I am clearly the only ‘gringa’ in there and I can feel all of the curious eyes upon me, like being center stage with a big spotlight on.
“Why in the world would a middle-aged, blonde, American woman in her Gap jeans be seeking medical attention here at the community health center?” I can almost hear the group collectively ask. Why would I, a woman from the land of the “free and the brave”, opportunity, Ken & Barbie and Baywatch, immigrate to Mexico and access their nationalized health care?
I am not just here on vacation, passing through. I have immigrated with my family—we are full-timers, jumped in with both feet, including but not limited to our medical needs.
Prior to our move to Mexico, I retired from San Diego City Schools and with that disappeared the health insurance that had previously insured our whole family for years. Via my husband’s fire department retirement, we do have a monthly allotment that we can submit approved claims to for reimbursement. But for a family of four, the amount does not always cover the times when our medical needs surpass the allotted monies….like right now.
I respectfully and casually look around and see mothers with babies in arm, five-member families in line to assist their ailing grandparent, a mosaic of people from the working class of this Mexican community. I stand out like a light bulb.
I keep my head held humbly high, my wits about me, and feel grateful that I know the language—an advantage for sure. Nonetheless, the experience is a bit overwhelming and daunting—long lines, a process and system I am not yet familiar or comfortable with.
I am there to make an appointment with a doctor—which one, I do not know. I present my three-year renewable policy, which we thankfully qualify for as permanent residents of this country. Based on the colonia you live in, you are assigned to a consultorio (exam room) to meet with a general doctor—mine was number 12. At least I have that part ascertained. If a specialist is needed, the Clínica de Salud doctor refers you to one either at the local hospital or to one in Leon, a larger city about an hour and a half away from San Miguel.
When I went to get my number for a same-day appointment at a different desk and saw that there were about 50 people ahead of me, I opted instead for an appointment in 2 weeks. Not as soon as I would like it, but certainly better than the usual 6-week turn around it takes in the States.
Qualifying for Seguro Popular (Mexico’s national health system) was an interesting experience—seamless, smooth, and efficient for the most part. We presented ourselves at the main office with all required documents—apostilled birth certificates, passport, permanent resident cards, and a utility bill to show proof of address. Because we are permanent residents and renters, not only did we qualify, but for free–renewable at the end of three years. We were surprised that our combined level of education and professional backgrounds did not bump us into a different category.
Fingerprints taken, a policy was initiated for our whole family. All we had to do then was go to the Clínica de Salud for a baseline physical to officially activate our policy. This intake physical involved waiting in a short line outside of the clinic, where under a pop-up tent, a nurse took our blood pressure, height, weight, measured our waists, and took a small finger prick sample of blood to check our blood sugar and hematocrit. That was it. Seguro popular does not deny coverage based on any pre-existing conditions. Thank goodness.
Up until now we have used private doctors for our medical needs—for the convenience, their accessibility, efficiency and affordability. Office visits for a dental appointment usually run around 300 pesos (25ish US dollars), 500 to 600 pesos (45ish US Dollars) for specialists. Our appointments have never been rushed, the waits have been reasonable, and the level of care excellent.
Recently, I was in need of seeing a specialist. She had many of the necessary diagnostics in her office, spent over an hour with me, wrote orders for a few more tests, a prescription, took her time, answered all of my questions, gave me her personal cell phone and email for any further questions I may have….all for 600 pesos. When I went back for my follow up a few days later, she again spent over an hour with me. The fee? Nothing. No charge for the follow-up. Amazing.
My blood work was done at the Tech 100 hospital here in San Miguel, no appointment needed. The staff was polite, the facilities clean, and I received my results that very same day after 5 p.m. by email. My CAT scan was performed at the Tech 100 in Querétero. I was able to get in the day after I phoned for the appointment, received the films with a CD 20 minutes after the procedure and a written interpretation by the radiologist by email two days later!
Here in Mexico, patients are responsible for keeping all of their records–blood work, imaging results, you name it. You carry them with you from doctor to doctor and are responsible for their safekeeping and storage. Makes sense and certainly cuts down on the paperwork overload for the doctor him/herself.
Surgery is in my future. And so here I find myself needing to access the system that is in place and apparently working for so many others, nationals and ex-pats alike. Just like with anything, I have heard the good and the bad. I will manifest and place all conscious thought and intention that all will go well and that I will be placed in the hands of competent and caring surgeons.
Facing surgery, in any country, state or city is daunting. I have had friends and family question why I choose to remain in Mexico for major medical care. And the answer is this: I live here. This is not a dress rehearsal for an enlightened return to the States. We are fully integrating into our new lives in all aspects. And so for now, I will enter a system of which I currently know little about, do due-diligence, ask around, research and plan as much as possible.
I am grateful that this option is available to me.
I will likely do a part two to this article to document the process as I continue to learn how to navigate my way through Mexico’s health system. No doubt it will be an ‘adventure’ of its own kind.
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