One of the things Tina and I knew we would need to address during our time abroad is health insurance. The Kaiser Permanente health insurance we have in Hawaii only covers urgent and emergency care while traveling outside the U.S. At $600+ per month, that's too expensive for just emergency coverage. At the seminar we attended when we first arrived in Costa Rica, one of the speakers addressed health care coverage options for expats. There are quite a few options.
In October, we started researching our options (prompted by our monthly Kaiser bill) and contacted an insurance broker recommended by the organization that sponsored the seminar. We met with him in San Jose and found out he specializes in insurance for Costa Rica residents. Since we were not ready to be residents, he referred us to a different broker, who handles coverage suitable for our situation. This broker is locate in Santa Ana (pronounced "santana" by locals) - about a 25 minute bus ride from San Jose.
We contacted the broker and scheduled a time to meet with them to discuss our options. We took a bus, then a taxi to get to the office building where they are located. We arrived to find the office is in a very new, very modern building in Santa Ana.
The cab pulled up to a guard gate and we explained that we had an appointment. He raised the gate and the taxi dropped us at the front door. Upon entering, we found only one person in the lobby: the security guard at the large reception desk. We told her about our appointment and she asked for our passports. She scanned them and gave us back only one. The other she exchanged for a card key. She informed us she would give back the other passport when we left. She then escorted us to the turnstiles, just past the reception desk and showed us how to operate them with the card key. After escorting us through the turnstiles, she walked us to the elevator and showed us how to use the card key to activate the elevator buttons to get us to the 9th floor (where the insurance broker is located).
I can't remember when I've gone into a commercial building that had such security precautions. It's certainly not because it's located in a bad neighborhood - Santa Ana is a pretty upscale community. It made me wonder what other organizations were located in this building... Throughout this process, we didn't see another person in the building, except the security guard.
When we stepped off the elevator on the 9th (top) floor, we were very surprised to find the floor was almost completely unfinished. It wasn't hard to find the insurance office - it's the only one there.
This is a cool panorama shot that I took, panning from the elevator on one side to the elevator on the opposite side:
There are 2 more multi-story buildings being built next to this one, even though it seems this one is not filling up very fast.
The view from the 9th floor is very nice, too:
We had a great meeting with the insurance broker. They really took their time to explain everything to us and answer all our questions. The meeting lasted over two hours. We figured out a very good option for us, to replace our Kaiser coverage with a policy that would cover us worldwide. The policy has a $5,000 deductible, so we pay out of pocket for normal doctor visits, tests, etc. Keep in mind, though, that costs for these types of things are MUCH lower in Costa Rica (and Panama) than we would pay in the U.S. and the quality of health care is very good. A high percentage of doctors and dentists speak English - often because they were trained or did their residency in the States. That's why many North Americans come to Panama and Costa Rica for procedures (dental and medical) that are very expensive at home. It's a booming industry called "medical tourism".
One man who was with us on the rain forest tour was in Costa Rica to get some extensive dental work performed. He was telling us about it and said he was extremely pleased with the quality of care he received. It was less expensive that getting it done in the U.S., even factoring in his travel costs.
Another bonus for us: the annual premium for our new worldwide health care policy is $3,000 less than we were paying with Kaiser. So even if we spend $3,000 out of pocket in a year, we are just matching the amount we would have spent for our Kaiser premium (not including co-pays). The coverage on our new policy, once we have satisfied our deductible, is outstanding. Things like hospitalization, intensive care, surgery, doctors and specialists, CAT scans, MRIs, cancer treatments and more are covered at 100% (zero co-pay). Coverage is provided in the U.S. through the Aetna healthcare network. In other countries, there are no restrictions on doctors or hospitals.
The turnaround on our health insurance application was very fast, too: we submitted our application on October 22nd and our new policy was effective November 1st. That is one important To Do that we have now checked off.
Posted by Mark