Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Perks Of Free Health Care In Argentina

Free health care is one of the perks of moving to Argentina. Despite a handful of locals who feel that health care should be limited to Argentine citizens or foreigners who are Argentine residents, free health care is available to anyone, regardless of what country you're from and I doubt that this is going to change anytime soon.
Should we charge medical expenses to foreigners who are non-residents? 1) Yes, because they are not residents. 2) Free medical care should be limited to emergencies only 3) No, because it would violate human rights.

There have been a few changes since I last wrote about the free health care process a few years ago so here they are. Keep in mind that I am currently in the province of Cordoba and my particular experience is in the public hospital called "Hospital Nacional De Clinicas".

For starters, you can't make an appointment at the "centro de turnos" anytime you want to anymore unless you have health care benefits (obra social). So foreigners and locals living in Cordoba without insurance have to go at the crack of dawn to the hospital and wait two or three hours to get a number to schedule an appointment. They only give out 70 per day, hence the reason why you have to go so early... like 5 a.m.
A few years ago you had to pay an outpatient fee called a "bono" which was super affordable anyway. Now you no longer have to pay a dime. In fact, there are signs posted throughout the hospital reminding patients that no area in the hospital is allowed to charge patients under any circumstances, which might explain why the dental services have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Once you have your own doctor, they'll order some blood work which you have to get done in the lab section of the hospital. You'll need to schedule an appointment for this as well at the "centro de turnos". The blood work takes about a week and a half, depending on what you're being treated for. When the results come back they are sent to your doctor. You'll just need to schedule an appointment to see them and get the results.

Free Vaccinations
If you want to get flu shots or any other form of vaccination you can report to the "vacunatorio". Their hours of operation are from around 8 am to noon. They may or may not have the shots your doctor prescribed. So you may end up having to visit other public hospitals. Don't worry! The vaccines are free! 

If you have an emergency and you can't wait, there is an emergency room (Sala de Urgencia) available and you can go anytime 24 hours a day.

A Spanish Speaking Hospital
It's a safe bet that they don't have English-speaking staff in the hospital, though you may find a handful of people who can speak English. Your safest best is to bring a native Argentine with you (friend, spouse, neighbor) if you don't speak any kind of Spanish.

Prescription Medicine
Prescription medications are not free. Whatever you have to get at the local pharmacy may cost you heavily. For example, my husband started buying Soriatane to treat his skin condition, which three years ago cost about $250 Argentine pesos ($17.81 USD). As of March 2016, that medicine now costs $740 Argentine pesos ($52.72 USD). Yeah! It was a major price hike, especially if you're living solely on the Argentine economy, which has been facing some serious declines, particularly in the last couple of months. I've spoken to a lot of locals who have struggled to buy their medication even with health care benefits (obra social). Imported medications are usually the most expensive and they don't always have a generic brand that is more affordable.

In cases where patients suffer from more serious health issues like diabetes, cancer or AIDS, the government will pay for the medicine required if you cannot afford it. However, there's a lengthy amount of paperwork and wait time. So keep that in mind if your sole intention is to come here to treat something serious. You can always bring USD and lots of it... just in case. But remember, you can only bring in $10,000 USD into the country per trip.

If You're Thinking About Having Your Baby Here
If you're pregnant and are thinking of having your baby here in Cordoba, then most people would agree that you're better off going to a private hospital. There's a hospital called Sanatorio Allende in Nueva Cordoba, and that particular hospital has a department for international patients. This is great because you won't have any issues finding someone that speaks English.

But there's one thing you shouldn't expect and that is pain relief. They don't use gas or an epidural to ease your pain, so good luck experiencing the miracle (and pain) of birth.

Dental Care
Some people have asked me to write about the dental health care coverage. So as I've said before, the Hospital Nacional De Clinicas in Cordoba does not offer free dental service. However, you can look around for a good dentist and the cost is still pretty manageable, and I say this having recently undergone a full cleaning, which cost $400 Argentine pesos ($28.50 USD),  an oh-so painful wisdom tooth extraction for $800 Argentine pesos ($57.00 USD) and 10 cavity fillings for $2,800 Argentine pesos ($199.49 USD). Yes! I had 10 cavities! Sue me for eating a lot of sweet stuff! Of course, these prices vary from one health care professional (and province) to another.

Like any other country, Argentina has its pros and its cons, but free health care is something that not many countries offer to locals and foreigners. It's a blessing that I urge everyone to consider taking advantage of because there's nothing more important than our health. Plus, if those few xenophobic malcontents become a massive chorus in the future and influence the government to charge foreigners, the concept of free health care could go up in smoke!

Take a look at the original post I wrote back in 2013 to compare how things have changed in the free health care system in Argentina.