Choosing a Doctor
Foreign residents can "buy into" the Social Security system (Caja, as it's called in Costa Rica) by paying a fee
from $40 to $50 a month and then going to government hospitals for treatment However, since medical care is free, it isn't
surprising to find that the system is crowded, well-used. When people don't feel quite up to snuff, they traipse off to the
hospital to see a doctor. Of course, for emergency treatment, there is no problem you are seen immediately but for an
ordinary office visit with a government doctor, you could find yourself standing in line or sitting in the waiting room for
a long while. For elective surgery, you can expect a wait of several months for your turn. However, there is a better way:
choose a family doctor who is in both public and private practice. See him as your private doctor for minor problems and as a
public servant for expensive treatment.
A resident of Heredia told of his strategy for choosing
doctor. He said, "I joined the Social Security plan by paying about $40 a month. Then I visited a free clinic a few
times until I found a doctor I liked. I made an appointment to see him in his private practice. Now, as my regular doctor, I
can see him any time simply by making an appointment and paying for an office visit. But if something expensive ever comes
up, such as a major operation, he'll check me into the government hospital for free treatment by the same doctor!
Even if a patient chooses a private doctor and uses a private hospital, costs are ridiculously low compared to the United
States. For example: In San Jose, the typical bill for a gall bladder operation is $2,500, and for an appendectomy $1,200
to $1,800. The total cost of a heart bypass operation is currently $15,000 to $20,000—that's "out the
door," for everything as opposed to $50,000 in the United States, just for the surgeon, plus hospital room,
anesthesiologist, medication and other medical fringe benefits.
For those with Medicare, be aware that it is not valid outside of the United States. However, for those under 70 years of
age, there is a Costa Rican government insurance company, the National Insurance Institute (INS), which offers a policy
for $1700 a year for adults and $1100 for dependents under 24. This policy pays 80 percent of hospitalization (private
room), post-operative care, medicines, lab tests, X-rays, CAT scans, cardiograms, therapy, home care and support systems.
For surgical fees, the policy pays 100 percent up to a maximum which is based on a surgical table. Doctor visits are also
covered to the limit of the schedule. The limits of the policy are said to be generous, taking into account the low medical
costs in Costa Rica.
All retirees we interviewed swear by the quality of Costa Rican medical care. I can tell you my personal experience: I went
to a doctor with a bad case of the flu, severe back and neck pains, and a fear that I had pneumonia. The doctor decided
that I was going to be okay, but he suggested that I go to the hospital for a checkup and a rest. I asked for a shared room,
but since the hospital wasn't full, they didn't put another patient in with me; essentially it was a private room for a two-bed
ward rate. After three days of tests, medication and tender loving care (plus great meals) I was presented a bill which made
me feel even better. The entire cost of three days in the hospital, including electrocardiogram, blood tests and X-rays,
was less than if I had stayed in a moderately-priced hotel and dined in ordinary restaurants for those three days!
back to previous page
- back to main information page
not hesitate to call us, it will be a pleasure serving
Tel:+1.888.365.0904 / +506.2637.0184
Costa Rica Time