A Tale Of Two Healthcare Systems

How treatment in Mexico compares to the U.S.

One of the most important things people consider when thinking about moving abroad is “How is the healthcare?”there are hundreds of answers from other expats to be found on the web, there is nothing like experiencing it yourself. Let me tell you my story.

When I was living in Arizona, I injured myself playing basketball and had significant pain in the middle of my right calf. It didn’t get any better over the next few days, and had also swollen quite noticeably. I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I didn’t want to use one of the measly two visits per year my health insurance covers, with me paying a $45 USD co-pay. Going now meant that, at later visits, I would have to pay for everything myself, and doctor visits were well over a $100 each.

Long story short, even though I paid for health insurance, the healthcare I received in the U.S. was expensive enough that I didn’t go to the doctor until I was told by my dentist (who noticed my leg during a visit) that I could have a life-threatening blood clot. And then when I did see my doctor, I was misdiagnosed, then re-diagnosed and told I could get treatment for several thousands of dollars more, or just live with it. Even without doing any physical therapy, I paid over $1,000 out of my own pocket for my doctor’s visits because I hadn’t even come close to my $10,000 insurance deductible.

Fast forward to our trip through Mexico, where we wound up in the Ajijic area south of Guadalajara. I noticed that a pain I’d get from time to time in the back of my left shoulder had gotten bad enough that it was impacting my day to day life. A friend recommended a physical therapy clinic in downtown Ajijic and I waltzed in without an appointment and was told to come back in an hour.

My therapist, Dr. Johnathan Cosio, spent almost an hour and a half exploring the problem. Testing a theory, he asked me to turn over on my back, then placed his hand on my diaphragm and asked if it hurt behind my shoulder when he pressed down. It did. This led him to believe that my problem had nothing to do with my shoulder and everything to do with the ribs on my right side not opening sufficiently to let in enough air, so the left side was overworked and in pain as a result.

In the 30-plus years that I’d had this occasional pain, which was looked at by various doctors and chiropractors, no one had noticed this. Dr. Cosio had potentially diagnosed a problem all these U.S. healthcare aces had missed. I paid him less than $25 for the session, and immediately scheduled another session, why not go in more often?

After a week or so, the pain was only marginally better, so Dr. Cosio suggested I see a medical doctor. A hundred yards down the street from the physical therapy office was the office of Dr. Leon, who is famous among local expats. I walked in without an appointment, so Dr. Leon could not see me right away but his colleague, Dr. Jessica, could see me later that day.

During our appointment, which was almost an hour and a half long, Dr. Quintanilla asked me a bunch of questions about my general health and health history. She called and spoke with Dr. Cosio, examined me and confirmed that I wasn’t getting enough air in my right lung.

Being a very thorough doctor, she wanted to eliminate all potential issues and wanted an MRI of the entire area. However, the MRI would have to be done in Guadalajara, about an hour away by car. I could either drive there myself, or she could have a driver take us there and back for about $30.

Only $30 to have someone take me an hour, wait, and then take us home? $30 would hardly cover gas for the car and parking in an L.A. medical facility! After some discussion, we decided on a more immediate and less costly solution, which was to take x-rays at a facility about 10 minutes away. For immediate relief, Dr. Quintanilla gave me some free samples to reduce pain in my nerves and an injection that reduced inflammation.

The cost for the examination was about US $15, plus another $5 for each injection. Dr. Quintanilla said if we felt the injections were too expensive at her office, she would sell us the medicine and we could have someone else do it. For $5 each, I figured I’d have a doctor do it.

That night was the first in quite a while in which I didn’t wake up in significant pain, and the next morning, most of the pain was gone. I came to the realization that while I denied or delayed help in the U.S. because of the cost, here in Mexico I could visit a doctor and it would cost about as much as a good deli sandwich in the States. Attending to my health in Mexico would be changed and much improved, not only in cost but also in worry and catching issues earlier and treating them competently.

Chuck Bolotin is the owner of BestPlacesInTheWorldToRetire.com, an online community dedicated to providing retirees credible information about moving and living overseas.