Many Americans and Canadians now making their home in Mexico need to consider how best to manage their healthcare options.
While many may still count on health coverage from their country of origin, there is another choice for those who are intending a prolonged or permanent stay in Mexico. That option is coverage under the IMSS system (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social), available to foreign nationals, right here in Mexico.
Coverage under IMSS
There are many advantages in registering for IMSS protection. First, there is no age restriction. Rather, cost of coverage is set on a sliding-scale based on age, ranging from 3,900-10,800 pesos per year (a reasonable fee whatever one´s age). IMSS coverage is available to both permanent and temporary residents of Mexico. Additionally, the IMSS pharmacy can typically fill prescriptions at no cost, although many choose to go privately here due to availability issues.
On the downside, you generally cannot choose your general practitioner or specialist, as this is done based on availability at the time you visit your IMSS clinic or hospital. As with many types of coverage, certain pre-existing conditions may disqualify you from coverage, or delay it. These conditions include: malignant tumors, AIDS, chronic degenerative diseases, addictions, mental illness and congenital diseases. Enrollment may be allowed after a specific waiting period of up to four years, which may render this option impractical for the seriously ill. Also, not covered are elective surgery (plastic surgery, weight loss procedures), eye and dental care, and infertility treatment.
Other complaints in the past include long waits to see a doctor or obtain prescription medication and overcrowded hospitals. However, at least one relatively recent IMSS customer satisfaction survey gives hope, in that 83 percent of patients surveyed indicated they were satisfied with the medical services provided by IMSS. This being said, for the relatively healthy foreign national living in Mexico, IMSS coverage should be considered a viable and cost-effective option.
So how does one register for IMSS coverage? IMSS now provides for online registration for your convenience. Prepare all typical paperwork including birth certificate and marriage certificate (with Apostille seal), immigration documentation showing right to residency (temporary and permanent residents may apply), proof of home address, photos and CURP/RFC. Once registered, you will be assigned to a local clinic where a general practitioner will see to your medical needs. Note that a visit with a specialist requires a referral from your local clinic.
For shorter stays (less than 180 days), travelers insurance may be the simplest option to obtain access to medical care in Mexico. One such insurance provider is NOVAMAR, which permits permanent residents of Mexico to apply for coverage. Applicants 65 years and older must submit to a medical examination, which normally consists of urinalysis, blood chemistry of six elements, electrocardiogram at rest, and a medical examination. Applicants under 65 years of age may be required to submit to a medical examination if certain medical conditions are present. Waiting periods may apply, some two to four years (for cancer and AIDS patients) rendering once again a difficulty for seriously ill patients seeking coverage. While patients may select their doctor under the NOVAMAR plan, they are nonetheless limited to physicians and facilities that are enumerated in the plan. The following websites provide more information on the NOVAMAR and other healthcare insurance plans: www.novamarinsurance.com.mx and www.internationalinsurance.com.
Dennis Morris is a writer and graduate of the UAG School of Medicine.