Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems in Central America. with a mix of public and private clinics and hospitals and Western-trained medical personnel. While insurance and treatments are considered expensive when compared to neighboring countries, it is considered to be an excellent deal in relation to North American and European costs.
The government is dedicated to providing low cost, quality health care to every citizen. Approximately 10 per cent of the GNP funds health care, which translates into a doctor for every 700 people and a hospital bed for every 275. The government has also allowed private health care to provide services to those who can pay more.
While two-tiered health care systems are sometimes disparaged for the division in care it creates, this system seems to work for Costa Rica. This is due in part to the fact that the same doctors work in both private and public systems, splitting their time between public hospitals and their own private practices. The Costa Rican health care system really is a thriving mix of private and public services, including hospitals, clinics, ambulances and pharmacies.
The Costa Rican Social Security Office, or CCSS, is responsible for running the national health care network. Every company and employee in Costa Rica is required to pay into the CCSS to run the wide network of over 30 hospitals and 250 clinics across the country. With Western-trained doctors and the latest equipment, these hospitals rival many in North America and Europe for quality of care.
However, like many public systems, there is a down side to affordable and inclusive health care. Long waits for appointments and procedures are a side effect of the system; one that the government hoped to alleviate by allowing a private system to work alongside the public one.
The biggest benefit of private health care is the shorter waiting periods for appointments with specialists, operations and procedures. In exchange for higher premiums, private health care patients have access to a variety of facilities, laboratories and outpatient services that may not be readily available to those in the public system.
Most of the private hospitals are located in the San José area, including Hospital CIMA in Escazú, Clínica Bíblica in downtown San José and Clínica Católica in Guadalupe. All of these hospitals are affiliated with American medical centers and insurance providers. Many of the coastal cities have a number of private health care centers that outnumber the public system.
Health care in Costa Rica is so affordable that if you have the means, you can simply pay cash for any doctor appointments or procedures. For most people living in Costa Rica or even visiting for a short time, insurance is important to cover any emergencies or unexpected medical issues. Residents, retirees and tourists have the same three insurance options, no matter their residency status.
While the CCSS (Costa Rican Social Security) public health insurance is primarily for Costa Rican nationals, both foreign residents and retirees can access this system by paying the necessary premiums. For foreign residents, the monthly premium is based on income. The CCSS system covers doctor visits, prescriptions, eye and dental care and hospitalization. However, the public system is plagued by long waits for appointments and delays in getting medication. These delays usually prompt foreigners and wealthy Costa Ricans to opt for private health care insurance.
The government's insurance company, National Insurance Institute (INS), offers insurance to everyone, including foreign residents, retirees and even tourists. Residency is not required to purchase this private insurance plan. It provides access to private hospitals and facilities across the country and allows the insured to choose their doctors. However, INS insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions or dental care. Most foreign residents opt for this insurance because of the shorter wait times. Of course, since most Costa Rican doctors work for both public and private facilities, the quality of care is the same.
There is also another insurance option for foreign residents. There are a number of international insurance plans available for people living abroad that are available to purchase before you leave home. The coverage and premiums vary by company but you will have some type of access to the private system once you're in Costa Rica.
Pharmaceuticals and Pharmacies
Pharmacies are typically the place to go if you have a minor ailment or complaint. It's faster than going to a doctor's office and pharmacists are well educated and able to diagnose and treat common illnesses. In fact, all pharmacies are required to have a pharmacist on the premises in order to open for the day.
Another good reason to head to your local pharmacy for treatment is that most medications are available without a prescription. A pharmacist can diagnose sickness and dispense medication without a doctor's approval. Only narcotics and addictive drugs require a doctor's prescription.
There are plenty of pharmacies across the country and in major centers, there are a few that are open all night. Pharmacies stock most medications found North America and Europe and the cost of most medicines are much lower than overseas. Prescription drugs are sold by brand name only and since many brands are produced locally and may have a different name, it's helpful to know the generic name of the drug you need.