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Using The Healthcare System In Costa Rica – A Short Guide For Expats

Costa Rica is known to have one of the best healthcare systems in Latin America and the life expectancy of the population is among the highest in the world. Both public and private healthcare is undergoing continuous modernization with new equipment, new techniques and improved training. The best part is that the costs still remain low when compared to the United States and European Union countries. Here are some highlights of the healthcare system in Costa Rica.

Government-run healthcare

Under Costa Rica’s universal healthcare system, every citizen is eligible for health coverage through the public system. This is funded by employee income tax amounting to 9 percent. There is also employer contribution, which is variable. Public healthcare is available to citizens regardless of pre-existing health issues and the extent of the medical care required.Patients do not receive any bills and can avail of prescription medicines at no cost. The government-run healthcare network spans more than 30 hospitals and above 250 clinics across the country. The Costa Rican Department of Social Security or Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) is in charge of the country’s health sector. This public system has been in effect for about 60 years now and although it can sometimes get overloaded, it has been working well. Foreigners who are legal residents can become part of the system and avail free treatment, which ranges from check-ups to major surgeries, by paying a minimal monthly fee based on their income.

Visitors and tourists can use public healthcare facilities only in case of emergencies. While the government-run healthcare system is known to provide high quality and efficient medical services, it does face a physician shortage form time to time, and this can lead to long waiting periods for elective procedures. To avoid long queues, some residents opt for private insurance that enables them to use private hospitals and clinics.

Private healthcare

Private healthcare in Costa Rica costs more than public healthcare, but is still cheaper when compared to countries like the United States. Even dental treatments are priced lower than in the United States, which is why many people visit Costa Rica mainly for medical procedures. Many of the doctors and dentists that work for the public healthcare system in the mornings, operate their own clinics in the evenings. Some of the reputed private hospitals in Costa Rica include Hospital CIMA and Clinica Biblica, which are affiliated with hospitals in the United States and provide highly modern services. Many of the public healthcare system doctors work at these hospitals in the afternoons and evenings. Expats usually prefer to use a mix of public and private healthcare services to avoid the long waiting periods for certain services.

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Legal residents of Costa Rica can also avail of health insurance from the Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS), which is the state monopoly. Policy premiums may be selected based on age, gender and pre-existing health conditions. Patients can go to a doctor of their choice at a private clinic under this system and receive reimbursement of up to 70 to 80 percent of their medical bill. Since the Instituto de Seguro Nacional is the only state authorized health coverage provider in the country, foreign residents opt for health insurance in the home countries. Most reputed private clinics in Costa Rica work with international insurance companies.

Medical tourism

Health travel has been on the rise in Costa Rica and the country receives visitors from various countries who wish to avail of its high-quality medical services. About 5 percent of international visitors come for medical services such as cosmetic surgery and dental treatments. Many of the private hospitals and clinics are internationally accredited and well equipped to perform different types of procedures. There are also after-care facilities available for patients on medical visits, and these are mainly located in San José. These ‘recovery retreats’ are a special feature of the medical tourism industry in Costa Rica. Located near clinics, the retreats provide all necessary amenities and have a staff of nurses and interns that attend to the recovery needs of patients. Health tourism operators provide packages that even include transportation to and from the airport, along with the cost of consultation, treatment and recovery services.

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