Panama private medical care.

exterior of the Chiriqui Hospital, in David

Panama private medical coverage.
March 2008

One of the leading questions I get asked from potential retirees is, “What do you do for medical coverage?” The second question is almost always about the standard of Panamanian medical care. As a reporter and videographer I have traveled extensively throughout Latin America and found Panama’s medical care to be the best anywhere in the region.

This week my wife and I decided that we should have some medical coverage. On our auto insurance we have a small amount for emergency treatment after car accidents, but we felt we needed more. A friend had signed up for a policy with Chiriqui Hospital, David’s leader in private medical care. He spoke in glowing terms of the doctors and the equipment, so we decided to check it out for ourselves.

First step a blood test

We were no strangers to the Chiriqui Hospital – it has the best laboratory in the area. Our veterinarian had regularly sent blood samples there from our 15-year old Schnauzer. The first part of signing-up requires an interview with health plan director, Manuel Granados. Fortunately for us linguistically challenged, most of the people at the Chiriqui Hospital speak English.

CT scan Catscan

The costs.
The cost for both my wife and I is just $90 a month with coverage up to $15,000. In case of an accident, the plan covers 100% of the emergency room costs. If we need immediate medical appointments then the charge is a modest $7.00 a visit. The plan offers coupons for X-rays and lab tests and the plan covers 70% of these costs.

Manuel said the only thing the hospital is not equipped for is long-term cancer care. However Chiriqui hospital has an agreement with a leading hospital in Panama City. I visited that hospital some years ago and was told that it was the number one oncology center in all of Central America.

After the form filling Manuel led us downstairs to the laboratory to donate some blood – actually just a vial full. The results he told us would be ready at 2:00 that afternoon. Then I was introduced to Executive Director Rigoberto Martinez. The reporter in me immediately seized the opportunity to get an inside look at the cool gear the hospital is famous for. Rigoberto happily obliged me and soon I was shown the state –of-the art Catscan machine. CT scan’s are now regarded as a basic tool in any hospital. Depending on the extent of the examination, at Chiriqui a scan will cost you about $275 to $600.

The next wonder tool was the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) This will cost $600 for a scan, but if you are signed up on their health plan – the cost is cut by 50%. One great touch was the room decor. Manuel explained that some people feel claustrophobic under these machines, so they have painted the walls with a wonderful outdoor fresco.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO)
A few doors away are their newest medical devices – a hyperbaric chamber. Although this was primarily designed to combat the “bends” in deep-sea divers, today’s hyperbaric chamber has far wider uses. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has shown 40% to 100% improvement in stroke victims. Brain injury, cerebral palsy, burns, multiple sclerosis, these and many other ailments can be treated with the use of HBO.

Hyperbaric Chamber

At 2:00 we returned for the results of our respective blood tests. Doctor Julio Osorio – analyzed the results, again, someone who speaks good English. My wife did have a high-level of the low-density cholesterol (LDL) and was prescribed medication to deal with it. As the doctor read down my results I will admit feeling apprehensive. Let’s face it, bad news can come in a doctor’s office, especially from blood tests. He slowly scanned the results and paused at each line. “Prostate . . normal.” He said. I did admit to an audible sigh of relief. The statistics for men of my age are gloomy, it seems one out of every four of us will have a prostate issue in his life. Next to heart failure, the prostate is our number one killer. My blood tests were good all-round but the blood pressure cuff wasn’t so obliging. Hoping to fend off any bad news I said. “I am border line high blood pressure,” The good doctor shook his head and pointed to his gauge. “No, you’re not border line, your blood pressure is actually high.”

Chiriqui Hospital has a first-rate emergency medical team. The doctors have been trained in the USA and Europe and are often upgraded on the latest techniques. One positive aspect of the hospital care is their orientation towards service. Everyone from the nurses, secretaries to doctors has that in mind. My greatest commendation for the Chiriqui Hospital is that is doesn’t feel like a hospital at all. It’s light, bright and very friendly.

If you had thought about retiring to Panama, and worries over medical coverage are holding you back, there is no need for concern. The coverage in all of Panama is good. The prices may be third world but let me assure you the medical care – that is truly first world.