Latin America's Top Health Care Haven

Health care, both the quality and the cost, is a prime concern for anyone approaching retirement. Some retirees are moving abroad in order to get access to top-notch health care at affordable prices.

Here's the good news: You have an excellent option for arranging access to world class medical care that is as good or better than services you could get from the best facilities in the U.S. And most health care facilities overseas charge just a fraction of the cost of similar care in the U.S.

Doctors in the U.S. struggle with high overheads and insurance costs, while trying to keep the drug companies happy and fend off personal injury lawyers. The patient often takes a back seat to all these conflicting agendas. The improvement in the quality of care can be dramatic when only the doctor and the patient are involved in the doctor-patient relationship.

Cuenca, Ecuador, for example, is one of the world's top places to consider retiring overseas for many reasons, most notably this city's excellent health care system. The cost of care in this city is so low that it's a place where you could go without health insurance, if you chose, and pay for care as you need it. I know several retired Americans in Cuenca who have taken this approach and been very happy with their decision.

Cuenca is becoming a popular city for medical tourism, and has begun offering city-sponsored programs. Cuenca's five top hospitals have joined together to offer a package deal. The medical tourist (or retiree) is provided with an ID card that entitles you to a package of exams at standard prices at the facility of your choice. You sign up for the bundle of medical services that best suits your needs. Prices range from $66 to $401 for the entire suite. Here are some examples:

--Mammogram: $40

--Chest X-ray: $25

--PSA test: $15

--Cholesterol workup (Cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides): $8

--EKG: $25

--EEG: $60

One important advantage of medical care in Ecuador is that the results and records belong to the patient. The doctor delivers them to you, along with any recommendation, and you can do as you please, easily going somewhere else for follow-up or treatment if you like. Your medical tourist card also entitles you to hotel and travel discounts throughout the city, including things like hot springs and massages. You can see the city, while getting a great check-up at a low price.

Even if you're not part of this program, your costs for health care services can be very low. A hospital stay in a semi-private room at Santa Ana Hospital is just $30. A private room with an extra bed for family members is $50, while a private suite is $75, including meals, but not doctor fees or medications.

A friend recently had a minor surgery performed at this facility. The total cost was $90, including the outpatient surgery, office visit, local anesthesia, and supplies. In addition, he paid $20 for associated lab work, bringing the total to $110. My friend had the exact same procedure performed in Arizona in 2011. The total cost there was $5,190. After insurance, his portion of the bill came to $347. It cost 300 percent more to have the same procedure performed with insurance in the U.S. than it cost to undergo the procedure without insurance in Ecuador.

Going without health insurance can be frightening and certainly isn't for everyone. If you would prefer to carry insurance, coverage can be extremely inexpensive in Cuenca. For example, premiums cost less than $60 per month for complete coverage for a 60-year-old male.

Retirees considering a move overseas should also make sure each place provides nursing home care in case it is eventually needed. Many countries simply don't provide assisted living facilities to a standard the typical North American retiree is probably looking for. Cuenca is an exception. In this city you will find good nursing home care at an affordable price. The total cost for a clean, professionally staffed facility where the residents are well cared for can be $450 per month, including 24-hour doctor and nurse attendance, food, laundry, personal care, and occupational or rehabilitative therapy.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas--Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.



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