Lo Mismo, Pero Mas Barato! Health Care in Mexico

Turning off the main drag in Lazaro Cardenas, the awning above the Farmacia Simliares and displayed the logo “The same, but cheaper!” I’d been suffering with an itchy rash on my stomach for nearly two weeks, and decided to give the pharmacy a try while John worked on sending paperwork back to the states for his job.

The whole mess began when we arrived in Saladita. An untended mango orchard across the road from our friend’s house was heavy with fruit, begging to be picked. John borrowed a bamboo pole to knock down fruit, and I ran around trying to catch them as they fell. Our harvest was bountiful and delicious. There is nothing better than a fresh mango, papaya and banana licuado (smoothie).

Free fruit!

The harvest. Did you know mangoes are related to poison ivy?

Later that day I noticed a red welt on my stomach. I attributed it to the jellyfish that other surfers were complaining about and didn’t give it another thought. Then, two weeks later it looked like this:

Two weeks after exposure to mango sap. Time to see the doctor, I think.

First I asked the pharmacist if she had something for my rash. She looked at me as if I must be dense and asked if I’d seen the doctor. No, I hadn’t yet. Is there one nearby? Yes, right next door.

I headed next door and poked my head into a white tiled room. I wasn’t sure if the man seated at the desk was the doctor, so I asked. He confirmed that he was indeed the doctor and I explained my symptoms. When I had picked mangoes with John, the sap had gotten onto my skin and caused a red welt which later blistered. Over the past 10 days we had theorized about jellyfish stings and fungal infections, none of which turned out to be my case. The doctor explained that it was contact dermatitis which can spread on your skin from the original point of reaction. Bothersome, but not dangerous. He gave me a prescription and said I’d be much better in 3 days. The bill?

“Solamente $25 pesos.” Are you for real? Two dollars to see a doctor?! Then I filled my prescriptions for a whopping $170 pesos next door. The whole transaction, from doctor’s visit to prescriptions filled took about 15 minutes.

A consultation with the doctor, the generic for Claritin, and steroid cream for a total of $195 pesos (about $16).

Precio máximo al público (maximum public price): $199. When's the last time you saw a maximum public price posted on your prescription bottle?

A few days prior, John had fallen ill as well. We asked Angel, the caretaker of House of Waves if he had a family doctor nearby. He sent us to Doctor Zamora, in Zihuatanejo who turned out to have a practice specializing in endoscopic surgery, “pain-free births,” and ultrasounds. The nurse took John’s height, weight and blood pressure, then called the doctor. We waited for about half an hour for Dr. Zamora to arrive at his office. Shelving next to a wall full of certificates held Gerber baby food jars with preserved bits removed during surgeries. I asked what was a couple of the larger jars: uterus and appendix. The doctor asked John about his symptoms, pounded on his kidneys and then diagnosed John with a Salmonella infection. He prescribed antibiotics, antidiarrheal medication and something for the stomach cramping. He also instructed John to have no seafood or beer for the next 7 days, which amounts to torture on the beach in Mexico. The bill for this visit? $400 pesos, and another $250 for the medication (about $54 USD).

Wikipedia says public health care is provided to all Mexican citizens as guaranteed via Article 4 of the Constitution. Information on the quality and accessibility of the care varies, but I’ll try to do some more research during our travels. While our experiences with relatively simple problems make the Mexican health care system look wonderful, Angel explained to me that it is actually much like the United States: insurance is expensive, it doesn’t cover everything, and the referral system is a nightmare. Angel’s two small sons suffer from asthma, which Dr. Zamora says will improve as they get bigger. Angel said that being in a more remote area, medical care and medicines are more expensive. This was certainly true as the doctor’s visit in Zihuatanejo (a more touristy town)  was about three times as much as the visit in Lazaro Cardenas ( much more industrial city).

For now, we’ll try to take care of ourselves and stay out of the clinic!

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1 Comment

  1. lianadevine said,

    July 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Here’s my two pesos’ worth on Mexican health care, as experienced by Canadian expatriates now living in Oaxaca: We bought our own IMSS coverage (apparently the “top of the line” public health care coverage) for 4420 pesos. That’s like $360 Canadian for two people – aged 50 and 53 – for ALL year. We get “free” medical visits, prescription drugs, nutritionist consults, lab tests, mammogram/x-rays etc. Friends of ours had a son seen in Emergency after a bicycle mishap and all his exams, meds, bandages etc were covered. You just have to have a little patience jumping through the hoops to process the paperwork when applying for coverage, and bring a book when you arrive for your clinic appointment.


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