Panama has a multi-tiered healthcare system, accessible to all but at different cost levels. In this guide, we will talk about healthcare in Panama, how to access it and what options expats have when it comes to health insurance.
Healthcare in Panama – general overview
Panama does not have universal healthcare for its citizens or residents. So, suppose you are moving from Canada, EU countries, or Great Britain, you have to make different provisions for your healthcare. Knowing the costs associated with the care you are looking to have is essential.
Panama has a great selection of good doctors who speak English. They are often trained in North America, Europe, and South America. Doctors in Panama hospitals share their time between the public and private systems.
Does Panama have a good healthcare system?
Panama has a three-tiered healthcare system, which we will describe the differences below. All three systems are a pay-for-service model.
The public healthcare system in Panama
Panama’s public healthcare system is one of the most robust in Central America and affordable to the end-user. Panama’s government funds it through taxes and other revenue sources. In addition, Panama has partnered with international organizations like the World Health Organization to improve healthcare access and quality.
Panama also has many well-trained doctors and nurses, and the government invests heavily in medical research and education. As a result, Panama’s public healthcare system can provide good care to its citizens. Still, it is not what most North Americans would accept.
The public healthcare system is often underfunded and understaffed, leading to long wait times for appointments and treatment. In addition, many rural areas do not have access to quality healthcare facilities, making it difficult for residents in these areas to get the care they need.
In hospitals, there will be no private rooms, all are dorm-style rooms. The lack of proper pain meds after surgery is a common complaint. There is a lack of modern and specialized equipment.
Despite these challenges, healthcare in Panama is overall acceptable and continues to improve each year. Panama boasts a life expectancy of nearly 78 years, similar to the US, so they must be doing something right.
The social security healthcare system
The Social Security healthcare system in Panama is a government-run insurance program that gives coverage to all working citizens and foreign residents of Panama. It covers many services like doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospitalizations, and preventive care in the public hospital system. Employee and payroll taxes fund the system.
Additionally, in the larger centers, specific social security hospitals and doctors are used with this system. It’s not really free, as an employee or business owner, you pay a monthly premium to belong to this system.
However, you will have no out-of-pocket expenses when you have a specific healthcare need, like seeing a doctor, getting tests, prescriptions, or even hospitalization. This system has no deductible or co-pay.
Suppose you have paid into the social security system in Panama for 20 or more years. In that case, you will continue to be covered in your retirement.
The private healthcare system in Panama.
Private healthcare in Panama is modern, highly efficient and based on payments through private insurance companies.
This system has several advantages, including the fact that it allows for greater competition among providers, which leads to lower prices and better quality care. Moreover, private healthcarr in Panama provides patients with a broader range of choices regarding doctors and hospitals.
Private hospitals have world-class equipment and doctors. The facilities are often newer and more comfortable than those in the public healthcare system. And, because private hospitals are not as crowded, patients can get appointments and treatment much faster than in the public healthcare system.
Panama is home to some very well-known hospitals.
Punta Pacifica Hospital is one of the best healthcare facilities in Panama City. The hospital is accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI) and provides top-notch medical care to its patients.
Punta Pacifica Hospital is affiliated with John Hopkins Medicine, one of the world’s leading healthcare providers. The hospital offers a wide range of healthcare services, including cardiology, oncology, and orthopaedics.
However, private healthcare in Panama can be expensive for those who do not have health insurance. The term expensive is relative here, as you are looking at a fraction of the cost of the USA.
For retired military from the US, several private hospitals in Panama have partnered with TriCare for Life, which you can use, and they will bill TriCare. There are also several VA pharmacies and VA medical services offered in Panama.
Is healthcare affordable in Panama?
We will look at the costs of each Panama healthcare system below.
The public system
The public hospital system in Panama is very affordable and is designed for almost anyone’s budget in Panama. The system has MINSA clinics, doctors, labs, and full hospitals in the larger centers. The cost of a doctor’s visit starts at $1, and specialists at $5. Lab tests can be just $2 – $5.
Just this year, a friend who lives in Panama City, and was not covered by health insurance, suffered a bad hernia. He went to the public hospital, and the situation was so bad he was admitted immediately and had surgery the next day. After two nights in the hospital and surgery, when he was released, he was presented with a bill for $185, with the option to pay in 12 monthly instalments.
He did tell me afterwards, about the dorms full of patients, with no privacy and receiving ibuprofen for surgery recovery pain, but for him, this was ok.
The social security system
Suppose you are employed or retired after paying into social security for 20 years. In that case, you will not have to pay out of pocket for your health care needs in the public or social security system. But there is a cost.
Let’s say you are making $1000 a month at your job. In that case, you will pay about $50 a month in social security premiums, plus your employer’s contribution. For a $2000 a month salary, you are looking at about a $100 a month contribution.
An expat with a work permit qualifies to be on the social security system, just like a Panamanian. Suppose they pay into the social security system for 20 or more years. In that case, they will continue to receive these health benefits and a small pension.
The private hospital system
The general day-to-day non-catastrophic healthcare expenses are very low in Panama.
In the private system, you can see a GP for as little as $15 if you live in rural Panama. In the city, you are looking at between $25 and $40. Specialist visits cost $50 – $100—a simple blood test or x-ray is $25.
For hospitalizations, a broken arm, emergency visit, x-ray, and casting can be as little as $250. For surgeries and hospital stays, you are looking at the cost of about 1/4 to 1/3 of what the same procedure would cost in the USA.
Health insurance options in Panama for expats
Health insurance for expats is a good idea when moving to Panama, as most expats would prefer to use a healthcare system similar to the quality of what they had at home. We will discuss your options below.
1. Self-insure option
Some expats move to Panama and have done well for themselves, so they have a lot of savings in the bank. With the cost of private hospitals being much lower than in North America, if you had savings put away just for medical emergencies, of at least $100,000 for each person, you are probably safe in Panama. If this is you, maybe self-insure.
A major surgery, a car accident, or even cancer will typically not cost much more than that for the entire treatment in Panama. But be careful, as, after a significant incident, you will need to top up your medical emergency fund.
2. International coverage
International health insurance, in my opinion, is the best for most expats in Panama. It is inexpensive when you are younger but does get expensive after you are 65.
For a good policy that covers you here in all the best private hospitals and when traveling, you are looking at $100 a month in your forties and $150 a month in your fifties. Once you hit sixty, prices go up, and you are looking at $250 – $300 a month, then in your seventies, $300 – $400 a month.
The best part of this insurance, unlike most US insurance, is that in Panama, there is no deductible or co-pay; it is 100% coverage. Outside of Panama, the deductible can be between $2,000 and $5,000 annually.
I have used this type of insurance for the ten years I have been in Panama. It is nice to know that whatever happens, I will get the absolute best care and no additional cost.
To make sure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal.
3. Local hospital coverage
Local hospital coverage is more of a co-pay program and is suitable for the expat that may be on more of a budget. Also ideal for the person looking to self-insure, but at a discount.
The cost for this type of insurance in your forties will be about $60 a month, fifties, $80 a month, sixties, $100 a month, and in your seventies, $125 a month.
This insurance will cover 70% of the hospital charges, and you pay 30%. It protects you at specific hospitals and has a maximum benefit of $50,000 annually.
Healthcare in Panama for expats – summary
When it comes to healthcare in Panama, there are a few different options for residents and expats alike.
The public healthcare system is very affordable and provides excellent care to citizens. The Social Security Healthcare System is a government-run program that covers all working and retired citizens and foreign residents of Panama. Many private hospitals and clinics throughout the country offer a wide range of services where your private health insurance will cover you.
For expats from the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere, you will be very comfortable with the quality of healthcare you will receive in Panama with the right insurance.
You might find useful:
- Living In Panama – how to move to Panama and settle down: the costs, pros & cons, paperwork, visas and residency, healthcare, etc.
- The Best Places To Live In Panama As An Expat
- Panama Visas & Residency Options For Expats
- Find more information about living in Panama and various locations on our Panama page.