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An Expat Guide To Healthcare In Argentina

Che Guevara, soccer, tango, and Iguazu Falls are a few of the phrases that immediately come to mind when we talk about the Argentine Republic, more commonly known as Argentina. However, there is a lot more to this massive South American country than its rebellious past, love for sports, passion for performing arts, and beautiful landforms. This nation is known all around the world for its vibrant culture, impressive heritage, sub-tropical climate, diversity, cosmopolitan lifestyle, and scenic beauty.The Argentines are known to be warm, friendly and generally passionate about many things, such as food and entertainment. They are fairly open-minded and show a high level of acceptance towards people of all cultures. On the other hand, their lifestyle is a lot more relaxed and laidback than the citizens of other South American places and this is evident in the number of paid national holidays the residents enjoy each year.

Many foreigners are therefore considering this popular destination to settle down in. You can easily connect with other immigrants residing in the capital, through forums like the Young Expat Society of Buenos Aires.

However, it is only natural for you to look at several other aspects of expat life when considering a new destination to move to. Healthcare, is one just important factor that will definitely have an impact on your life in Argentina. It is therefore essential for you to know how the system works in case you plan to use it. Given below is an expat guide to healthcare in Argentina.

Introduction to Medical Care

The healthcare system in Argentina has been divided into 3 sectors: the Public sector (financed by taxes), the Private sector (paid for by voluntary insurance schemes) and the Social Security sector (funded by obligatory insurance schemes).

Medical care in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Mendoza is of a fairly good quality; it is considered better than many the other South American cities. As an expat you may find this reputation warranted, but only up to a point. The quality of treatment in the smaller Argentine cities and towns is not the same.

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There are a number of private and public hospitals all across the country and as a foreigner, you can make use of both. Like in most other countries, the private facilities are fairly well-equipped. While the public hospitals are more basic, they hire well-trained staff. It is difficult to determine the degree to which beneficiaries are dependent on the private and public sectors, since there is a clear overlap between private insurance and other types of health cover.

As a resident you are entitled to a certain level of insurance cover; at the same time, you also have the option of receiving supplementary private healthcare, if you are willing to pay the additional cost.

Public Healthcare

The Ministry of Health (Ministerio De Salud, MSAL) looks after the state-run healthcare system and is responsible for regulating, evaluating and collecting statistics. The entire setup has been decentralized and is administered at a provincial level.

Around 50% of the local population relies only on the public sector for their medical needs, mainly because it is free for all in-patient treatment. This applies to locals as well as foreigners. There is no charge for out-patient treatment either but you will have to pay for your own medication. Emergency care and doctor callout services are free for everyone, including tourists. The quality is variable as the number of patients is large and the staff is overworked. Moreover, a majority of the facilities are underfunded.

You will not find the universal General Practitioner system in this country as most of the medics work in public hospitals. If you do not want to go through the long waiting lines, you can choose to visit a specialist in a private clinic. The charges vary from one place to another, depending on the area and setup you choose.

In order to make use of the public healthcare system in Argentina, no special registration procedure is required. You will just need to present your identification and certain other relevant documents at the point of treatment.

Also make sure to carry along a doctor’s prescription when you visit the pharmacy to purchase certain types of drugs. Over-the-counter medication can easily be bought without one; in fact, many pharmacists actually recommend medicines for standard conditions like the flu or a tummy bug, after listening to your symptoms.

Private Healthcare

There is a lot of heterogeneity in Argentina’s private healthcare sector as it is made up of several small networks and fragmented entities. It consists of around 200 different organizations that service more than 2 million residents. Many of the individuals and establishments operate without being affiliated to any regulatory body.

Like in most other countries, private healthcare services in Argentina are of a better quality and the waiting lines are shorter. This is because patients have to pay the entire cost of medical care. Fortunately, a number of the private facilities offer their own healthcare plans, making it easier for patients to finance their treatments through flexible payment options and discounts.

The whole private healthcare industry is funded by voluntary insurance schemes and the amount you pay for a cover may vary from one provider to another. You can choose to be covered by an international company or could enroll with a local insurer. Do bear in mind that your monthly premiums will only give you a discount on the price of medical care when required. Moreover, the extent of the local cover is only within the boundary of the city. Once you leave town or move to another place, your policy will no longer be valid.

You could also choose to skip an insurance company and pay your health premiums directly to a private clinic. To do this, you need to present your passport whenever you visit the facility; no residency permit is required. The downside to this practice is that you are only covered for your medical needs by that particular clinic.

While the services provided by the private facilities are generally considered good, it is important to note that certain clinics don’t offer an overnight treatment option, unless it is paid for separately. Some of them don’t even provide a laundry service on the weekends, and the patients’ families have to bring their own linen.

Social Security or Obras Sociales

In the case of all working professionals, the employer as well as the employee are obliged to make contributions towards a health insurance scheme that is organized by a trade union. This is the most commonly used form of health cover throughout the nation.

There are numerous schemes run by various unions and all of them are closely monitored by the National Health Insurance Administration or La Administración Nacional Del Seguro de Salud. The services are not provided directly by the unions; they are outsourced to the private sector.

Before 2000, workers could not choose which Obra Sociale they made payments to and this created a lot of problems for the users. Fortunately, the laws were amended so that professionals could opt for the Obra Sociale administered by their workers’ union.

This plan covers the cost of treatments and medications in different proportions. The exact cost of medical care under this scheme tends to vary. Patients are required to pay the difference between a fixed amount and the treatment cost.

Emergency Care

Anyone can call for emergency medical services by dialing 107 from a local number or a payphone, without the use of a card or money. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the person who answers your call will be able to speak English. It is therefore best to learn at least a few key phrases like “Necesito Una Ambulancia” (I need an ambulance) or “Una Emergencia! Ayudenme Por Favor!” (Emergency! Please help me!). Some of the other terms through which you can get the right form of help sooner are:

Accident: Un Accidente
Bleeding: Sangrando
Burn: Quemado
Heart attack: Paro Cardiaco
I’m in labor: Tengo contracciones
Injured: Herido
Stroke: Un Accidente Cerebro Vascular
Very ill: Muy enfermo

In Argentina, an ambulance usually has a doctor, nurse and paramedics on board, as well as a driver. In the urban areas it is possible to find public ambulances, but in the more remote parts of the country, private ambulances are run on a subscription-style service. If anyone requires urgent medical attention, it is best to have them taken to an emergency room at a hospital (Sala de primeros auxilios) instead of going to a clinic.

Dental Care

The standards of dental care across Argentina are quite high, even if you take the smaller towns into consideration. One of the biggest challenges is finding an orthodontist who can speak in English outside of the urban areas. The cost of dental care is relatively low compared to most North American and European nations. People from these countries therefore sometimes travel to Argentina for dental treatment.

Cosmetic Care

After Argentina went through an economic crash, cosmetology was one of the first industries that made a recovery. Today, cosmetic surgeries have become so popular all across the country, it is believed that not even another economic crisis could affect this industry.

It is easy to find several highly trained and experienced specialists in this nation, who are as skilled as professionals in Europe and the US. However, the cost of such surgeries is much lower and that is why people from all over the world travel to Argentina when they want to undergo any kind of corrective procedure. This could include popular aesthetic surgeries such as face lifts, liposuction, scar removal, breast remodeling, eyelid repair, correction of ears and nose surgery.

You will find clinics offering cosmetic surgeries at varying prices all over the country. However, make sure that the setup you choose is registered with the Argentinean Society of Estetic & Reconstructive Surgery (La Sociedad Argentina de Cirurgia Estética y Reparadora).

Finding a Doctor

Though walk-in clinics (guardias) are often available at most medical centers, visits to a doctor should be scheduled by making an appointment beforehand. Depending on the system under which you are covered, you may have the option of choosing your general practitioner.

If you are using government-funded healthcare, you will probably be assigned a doctor. However, it is possible for you to visit a specialist at a public facility. If you have private insurance, you will be given a list of physicians that you can choose from.

Medical Visas

If you are a foreign national with a serious or a chronic health problem and need to undergo long-term treatment in Argentina, you could apply at the Direccion Nacional de Migraciones for a 1-year multiple entry medical visa. You will need to submit your medical records, along with the details of where you will undergo treatment. Invalids and minors who can’t travel or live alone are given the option of applying for a visa for their direct families and caregivers.

If you are planning to go to a public hospital for treatment, a statement signed by the director of the facility will also be required. If you are opting for a private clinic, the statement will have to be legalized by the country’s health department.

Health Hazards

Before traveling to this nation, it is recommended that visitors get immunized against certain diseases. These include vaccines for yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, and typhoid. All travelers should also have taken their routine inoculations such as MMR (Measles / Mumps / Rubella) and DPT (diphtheria / pertussis / tetanus). Fortunately, you will not be asked for a medical certificate when entering Argentina; you may need one to re-enter your home country though (depending on where you are from).

While there are no concerns about malaria and cholera in the area, dengue fever is on the rise. The residents are constantly advised to guard themselves against this disease by avoiding mosquito bites.

Even though the tap water in the big cities and towns is drinkable, expats are advised to drink bottled or treated water. There are a number of conditions that can be transmitted through contaminated water.

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