By Fern Corraini
Part 2 in our series about health care options in La Paz, Mexico
An employed Mexican citizen is eligible for a higher level of medical care than the basic Seguro Popular (see Option #1). Called IMSS (pronounced “eems”), the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social is a system funded equally by the employee, the employer and the federal Mexican government.
Luckily, expats are also eligible for IMSS if they meet the medical criteria and pay an annual fee. The main hospitals in La Paz for this level of care are the Hospital IMSS on Calle 5 de Febrero, and the IMSS specialist hospital on Calle Toronja.
How to Apply for IMSS
To apply for IMSS coverage, take your documents and photos to the IMSS intake center in the Soriana mall on Abasolo in La Paz. For each person applying, bring the following:
- Passport plus 2 copies
- Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente visa, plus 2 copies
- 2 copies of your marriage license, if applicable
- 2 copies of your CURP card
- 2 copies of your most recent CFE or phone bill in your name
- 3 passport/visa photographs
- Application form disclosing any pre-existing conditions
This entire package will be reviewed, and you will be given a basic medical exam, after which you will be accepted or rejected. The entire process will take about a month.
Pre-existing conditions that may disqualify you include:
- organ disease
- drug or alcohol dependency
If you are accepted by IMSS, you will have medical coverage for as long as you pay your annual fee. Once accepted, you cannot be disqualified. Obviously, you want to get this insurance while you are still healthy! However, even with all the necessary paperwork and without prior conditions, IMSS can still deny your coverage and no reason will be given. You then have the option to apply for Seguro Popular, which we wrote about in Part 1 of our series on health care options, where no one is denied.
With IMSS, all of your medical care is without cost. All prescription medication, consultations with a doctor, specialists’ appointments, blood tests, pap tests, mammograms, dental extractions, plaque removal, x-rays, etc. are all included in your annual fee. Some “level three” care is not available here in La Paz, so patients with certain serious medical conditions will be flown to other cities on the mainland to receive care. For example, patients needing back surgery might be flown to Ciudad Obregon, Sonora for surgery, and patients with certain types of cancer will be sent to Guadalajara for radiation. My partner and I were both deemed eligible in 2011, and we paid 2,300 pesos ($120 US) each for the year. The annual premium goes up a bit each year, and when you reach age 60 there is a comparatively large jump. So now, at age 64, my cost is 7,300 pesos ($370 US) a year.
How is the Quality of Care?
This most crucial question is a tough one to answer. If you ask that about ANY healthcare institution anywhere, you will hear both good and bad stories. My personal experience with IMSS has been excellent, and I have confidence in the medical care I am receiving. I don’t always enjoy the lineups for blood tests or the time slots for appointments, but that is a small price to pay for full medical coverage.
On Day 1, we were assigned to a certain “door” in the hospital clinic and to the attending doctor there. On every visit to the clinic we are weighed, blood pressure is taken and height is measured. (That last one always makes me smile.) Not long after we became clients, it was discovered that my partner had a heart issue and I had a thyroid problem. Without IMSS it might have been several more years before we were diagnosed and treatment started.
A few years ago, I was concerned about some possible skin cancer. My doctor sent me to a specialist, and a month later I was in the IMSS specialist hospital awaiting surgery. Wow, you’d think they were prepping me for a heart transplant…I was as sterile as the operating theater! Two nurses, two surgeons, soft music, and me in my bonnet and boots. I was thoroughly impressed with the professionalism, organization and facilities. But more than that, I felt treated well…not just another body on the table. Yes, I had to jump through a few hoops to get there, but the care was warm, professional and inexpensive! And that about sums up my experience with IMSS: It’s not the easiest and fastest route, but it is inexpensive and offers first-rate care.
Fern Corraini is a veteran traveler and explorer who moved to La Paz from Canada eleven years ago and is happy to call Mexico home. In addition to her international travels, Fern has been an English teacher in Canada and Guadalajara, a customs officer, a beekeeper, a sandblaster, a travel rep in the Dominican Republic and a motel owner. When she’s not busy keeping Vista Properties organized as our administrator, Fern loves to cycle, visit the beach and spend time with her two rescue kitties. She loves La Paz and adamantly believes that the taco is the perfect food.