Another Fran Rant on Healthcare...

by Fran Browne

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As most of our readers know, the main reason for us moving to Costa Rica was due to the high cost of healthcare in the US. 

As each day passes, I learn more and more about how we need to be more responsible for our own lives here in Costa Rica.

But now, after living in CR for over 3 years, my concerns about the healthcare system here are growing.  Yes, I think the quality is good and affordable, but that depends on where you live.  If you live in a big town like San José, no problema, but should you live in more remote areas, better have a plan "B."

We are a 4 hours drive to San Jose, which has excellent American style hospitals and plenty of great specialists, but to travel 4 hours for a 30 minute (routine) a doctor’s appointment, makes for a very long and possibly expensive day trip. 

While there are a few (English speaking) family doctors in our area, they are not always here.  For example, just the other day I needed to see our doctor just to pick up a renewal on a prescription.  When I called him on Friday he told me to “just come on by on Monday” and pick up the prescription.  So Monday morning I stopped by his office.  I guess I should not be surprised but he wasn’t there; no doctor and no note on the door.  OK… I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he was running late. 

I decided to run some errands and stop by on my way home.  Two hours later, still no doctor.  I decided to call him, not just on his office phone but on his cell.  NO ANSWER on either line!  

By now it’s now lunch time so I'll give him the benefit.  I called back two hours later and to my surprise he answered his cell!  It turns out he is in San Jose at some conference and would not be returning until Thursday.  Pura Vida!   So why (on Friday) did he tell me to stop by on Monday, knowing all the while that he was going to be in San Jose attending a 4-day conference?   I need to remember Andy's First Rule of Survival - DON'T ASK WHY! 

Since I am a fairly typical gringo, no way am I waiting 4 days for something I need today.  Tomorrow I am going to try Plan B.  The next morning I drove to another doctor’s office in Coco.  In fact, this guy is only 500 meters up he road from the first guy.   Since you don’t really need appointments here to go see a doctor, I decided to just drop in and ask if he will write the prescription I desperately needed.  It turn’s out, he was at lunch but the receptionist said to come back later.  Since it was only 10:30 (who goes to lunch at 10:30?), I ran a few more errands.  It’s now 1 o’clock so I went back to see Doctor “B.”  Now I learn the he is not feeling well and will not be in for the rest of the day!  I was really starting to get pissed!  What would happen if I was hurt, bleeding or worse yet having chest pains?  Fortunately all I needed was a prescription and I have the luxury of time being on my side.  But it really got me thinking and re-evaluating the “availability” of healthcare in this area.

Our nearest full service hospital is located 40 minutes away in Liberia.  While we have not been a patient there, we have heard stories from others who have.  Bottom line; go there only if you have no other choice and do so with the lowest of expectations. 

We have a brand new CIMA hospital just 15 minutes from our house.  We drive by it every day.  There is only one problem… IT’S NOT OPEN!  The last we were told was that it would be opening on April 1st.  We got that information from a good authority… a doctor who was moving his practice there.  So when is it going to open; nobody knows for sure.  Rumor has it that it will be May 15th but the follow-up question that needs to be asked is WHAT YEAR? 

Do not get me wrong; I love living here at the beach.  I have no regrets but I do have some concerns, specifically on the quality and availability of local healthcare. 

Now the story has a very happy ending.  I did get the prescription the next day and did get the very expensive medication I needed at no cost through the CAJA, (the socialized medical plan).  That worked for this month but who knows if the same medicine will be available when I need it next month? 

This has been a problem (so again) I need to develop a backup plan.  I am working on an idea where I will buy the meds online in Canada, ship them to a friend in the States and they will mule it to me when they come to visit. 


I am writing this article for two reasons; the first is my way of venting.  The second is I want people who are contemplating a Costa Rican expat lifestyle to be aware of the pros and cons of the area they want to live.  Every area has its good and bad. 

In 3 years Andy and I will be eligible for Medicare.  At that time we will re-evaluate our future plans and make a decision - do we stay or go.  Remember, it was U.S. Medical Care that forced us into moving to Costa Rica.  In 2015, it will be that same criteria that formulates our decision to return. 

We’ll see.



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