Costa Rica’s healthcare system is strong by most developing countries’ standards, which is evident in the long life expectancy, low infant mortality rate and the overall health of the population.
The country has a public health system – the Caja Costaricense Seguros Social (the Caja) – which extends to all nationals and foreign residents. Though wait times are long and appointments are scheduled years ahead of time, the quality of care is quite good.
The public system is complimented by a private arm, with a network of hospitals and medical care providers attracts patients from around the world.
If you find yourself in Costa Rica and in need of medical care, here’s a quick primer on using Costa Rica’s healthcare system.
Public vs. Private
Most foreigners and wealthy Costa Ricans take advantage of the private system, choosing between the CIMA Hospital (Tel: 2208-1000), Biblica Hospital (Tel: 2522-1000) and Catolica Hospital (Tel: 2246-3000); along with the many private practices in the country.
A general check up will cost $40 to $50 out of pocket; a good teeth-cleaning will run $60 and a Pap Smear costs between $60 and $80. A list of English-speaking doctors can be found on the United States Embassy Web site.
Most foreigners subscribing to private care in Costa Rica are surprised with access to the doctors. Doctors often give out their cell phones and will give personal follow up calls.
Costa Ricans who have money to access private healthcare, generally use the public system in emergency situations. The common belief is that public system doctors are more experienced in situations of trauma.
All workers, residents and those applying for residency are required to pay public health insurance, which costs around 10 percent of one’s salary (or anywhere from $35 to $100 if paid separately).
There is also the option of purchasing additional health insurance from the National Insurance Institute to cover expenses of private care. For women, prices range from $633 to $1,660. For men, prices range from $526 to $1,687. While the policies don’t cover basic checkups or eye exams until the second year, it does cover ambulance costs and car for sickness, accident or maternity up to $200,000 a year. Garrett and Associates is a good resource for those looking to purchase additional insurance.
The Public System
For those with the patience to wait through long lines and the endurance to spend months (and sometimes years) waiting for appointments, the public health system is a decent option.
The first line of care is delivered by the EBAIS, which is obligated by law to have one clinic for every 5,000 people (this requirement has not been met).
EBAIS facilities are neighborhood health operations staffed by general care doctors and nurses. The next level of care is in clinics, which is where specialists have their offices. There are fewer clinics than EBAIS facilities. Lastly, there are the hospitals, of which there are four in the central valley, which handles emergency care and more complicated procedures.