People who have never visited Costa Rica always ask me the same three questions. Is it safe? How is the medical care? Is the real estate market going up? This report is not for full time retirees, but for those of us who love travel, don't like the cold, and wonder what their medical care would be like if they spent the winter in Costa Rica.
Having lived here now for nearly three years, and in two different areas, one being the beach areas surrounding Tamarindo, the other being the mountains outside San Jose, I have accumulated some sense of life here and a feeling for some of the ins and outs of medical care. I am a healthy 50 something (ah, vanity) male. I have found the medical care here first rate, and far less costly than in Miami, where I formerly lived. I go to the best dentist in Escazu, and to doctors who practice out of CIMA, one of the two best hospitals in San Jose.
I travel between my project, The Oaks condominiums near Tamarindo, and Green Seal Realty, and my weekend home in the mountains near San Jose. Those of you who are Californians and go from the beach to spend weekends at Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear get it. Except here, the mountains also are the city.
In December I went to my Escazu dentist for a checkup. After a routine cleaning and inspection ($50), he discovered a cracked filling in a molar, but more important, a need for some periodontal surgery. We scheduled it Friday morning. After a little over an hour and a few stitches in the gum, I was as good as new. Cost? $200. In the States?
What about Tamarindo? Luckily, I haven't gotten sick there, but Melanie's father-in-law and best friend both had medical emergencies last Wednesday. (Melanie is a 20 something German native and legal resident of Costa Rica, who is director of international sales at The Oaks.)
Her father-in-law, about my age, began vomiting and otherwise felt miserable 11:00 o'clock Wednesday night. Melanie and her husband took him to the emergency room at Coastal Emergency Medical Service, about 5 minutes from The Oaks.
There, he was rehydrated with a drip, given an antiviral injection, and sent home after a little over an hour. (He's fine, by the way, thanks for asking.) Cost $40. The treating physician worked at CIMA before deciding to live at the beaches.
Same day, mal suerte, Melanie's friend, a 20 something female, hurt her toe at the tennis club in Tamarindo. Ouch. By midnight, the pain had become unbearable. She, too, went to the emergency room at Coastal Emergency Medical Service. There, they sedated her toe with a local anesthetic, injected it with something to stop the inflammation, and put it in a splint. Cost $50.
As luck would have it, my 20 something daughter also hurt her toe partying New Year's Eve, while I was visiting her in Los Angeles. I took her to the Cedars Sinai emergency room New Year's Day. It turned out to be an ugly blood blister, caused by excessive dancing in high heels. Diagnosed, no treatment. Cost $300. Double ouch.
I prefer paying cash for medical care, especially in Costa Rica, since I feel I can afford it and I don't like paying overhead costs and profits to insurance companies. However, insurance is readily available. Not surprisingly considering the low cash cost of care, the insurance is quite reasonable. At Coastal Emergency Medical Service, about $40 a month gets you free medical consultations, a 50% discount on ambulance services, free consultations at home, and a discount on lab and dental services. Available equally to residents and visitors.
Private hospital insurance also is available. The Association of Residents in Costa Rica, run by Canadians, offers two different group health plans. One private plan with which I am familiar, Global Care Latin America, offers $100,000 family coverage with an annual $1,000 deductible, costing under $1,500 for folks between the ages of 50 and 54 and under $1,800 between 55 and 59.
The bottom line - in Costa Rica I feel that I have world class medical care for a tiny fraction of what I would pay "back home".
Statistics back up that judgment. Costa Ricans enjoy the third highest life expectancy in the Western hemisphere, 77.2 years of age, compared with the United States at 78 and Canada at 80.3. Source: U.S. Census Bureau Data Base, Life Expectancy at Birth 2007. Costa Rica's strong tradition of medical care is backed by free universal health care for citizens and legal residents, which many legal residents (usually not snow birds) use in combination with private care.
If you are visiting Costa Rica, or living here part time, world class medical care is at hand.
If you want to find out more, contact me, or check my ActiveRain blog in October 2007, reprinting with permission an October 5, 2007 article from The Tico Times about medical tourism to Costa Rica. The take away from that article is that first class knee replacement surgery that would cost $45,000 in the U.S. was done for $12,000 in Costa Rica. The Tico Times is free on the internet, and I highly recommend it as a weekly read!