Needless to say, the Mayan Riviera is rapidly becoming a magnet for a growing number of offshore retirees looking for their own share of paradise. But even in paradise, planning for possible major medical expenses must be taken as seriously as it would back home.
Many expats think that moving in with their health policy from home is enough. After all, any major medical situation could be treated back there and the local system would be exclusively for "minor" issues. This logic works fine as long as a "major medical issue" actually permits traveling back to your home country for treatment. In most cases that is simply not recommendable, if not impossible.
OK, so your health insurance policy covers international "emergency" claims and you are aware that the Mayan Riviera is finally being brought up to world standards regarding hospital services. But, what does "international coverage" really mean? Sometimes it is a reimbursement cover (e.g. you pay first and then the insurance company pays you) capped up to a relatively small amount. Sometimes, it is a cover for "network" hospitals. In these cases, out-of-network facilities usually imply important limitations in cover. Are the local hospitals members of your policy's network? What are your policy's policies regarding international events? Are air ambulance services included in your plan?
If answering these questions does not leave you a good impression of your once-beloved health policy, it does not mean that it is a bad one. It just indicates that it has been designed for your country's local market. And yes, Mexico is cheaper than home...but receiving emergency medical attention at one of Mexico's top hospitals will not be easy on the pocket.
The ideal solution does not entail that you purchase a brand new policy better adapted for Mexico: proper health care does not come cheap in Mexico, neither do health policies. Thus, doing so will only mean that you will be paying twice as much for health coverage.
Ideally, your current plan should be complemented with an INTERNATIONAL HEALTH POLICY that works as a "top-up" cover (after a certain amount, usually 10,000 to 20,000 USD, have been spent on your "basic" plan, which makes this option very reasonably priced). International health policies are those that offer similar services regardless of where the claim is taking place, even home! They also include air ambulance services should evacuation become medically necessary.
Obviously, for those without any cover, these policies can be purchased with lower deductibles (e.g. 250 to 5000 USD) that will make them very useful both here and at home (or anywhere your travels take you). If you are someone who visits for relatively short periods (e.g. up to 3 months), you may want to consider getting a TRAVEL INSURANCE POLICY. Good travel insurance plans must make direct payments to hospitals worldwide and not rely too much on networks (who will decide where to go in an emergency?).
Your best bet is to contact a local insurance agent. He or she should be able to assess your needs and recommend you the most appropriate alternatives according to your budget and lifestyle.
Robert H. Page, MD and Curtis P. Page, MD are authors of the MEXICO: Health and Safety Travel Guide and the Healthy Traveler Regional Series.