A major concern for many potential expats is what kind of health care is available in the prospective country being considered for relocation. We have all been told about those “quacks” and “snake oil salesmen” who set up shop south of the border so they can bilk the unsuspecting of their monies. Of course, the label “Third World” is thrown around liberally and gives the impression that health care in those developing countries is not only sub-standard, but risky and possibly life-threatening.
Thanks to the omnipotent mainstream media and their unquestionable integrity, most Americans “know” there is no cure for cancer or any other life threatening disease. The Hoxey clinic and the Gerson institute that have set up shop in other countries have enjoyed success rates of over 90% for people diagnosed with a terminal condition. But of course, big pharma and the allopathic medical community would themselves suffer a terminal condition if the alternative methodology utilized by these so-called “charlatons” was to gain recognition and acceptance. As a result, most Americans are wary of having to leave the systems they are familiar with and seek treatment elsewhere because of fear of the unknown. Read on. You might find out why.
What follows is my personal case study on the costs, availability and quality of health care in Argentina.
As I approach my retirement years, I have become aware of the changes the body goes through. For men with an active lifestyle, hernia operations are fairly commonplace but still not something one looks forward to. I started to notice my lower abdominal “bulges” about 2-3 months before I left the States. As many others do, I put off the issue figuring I would get around to it when it became uncomfortable. Well, the day came when after cutting firewood I began to experience discomfort and realized that it was time to address the issue.
After talking to a friend who had undergone the procedure two years previously, I was given the telephone number of an English speaking surgeon who specialized in hernia operations. It was Friday afternoon at around 1:00 when I called Dr. Hugo’s number and… he answered! No, I didn’t get his secretary or receptionist, I spoke directly to him! Whoa! Actually talking to a doctor on the phone! He told me to come to his office at 6:00 that same evening and he would take a look at me.
I arrived at his office on time, paid the receptionist $60 pesos (about $15 US), and sat down to wait until I was called. As I sat, I looked around and noticed that this was not a fancy chrome, glass and steel place of medical worship. I surmised that at one time it was likely to have been a small hotel that had been renovated into a two story medical office building with about eight or nine different doctors’ offices. I also noticed that there was a blood lab on site. I had only been waiting for about five minutes when Dr. Hugo called my name. A smile and a handshake later we sat down in his modest office. He explained the procedure and instructed me as to where to go to have my blood-work, chest x-ray, ECG and consultation with the anesthetist. He wrote down each needed procedure and provided the address and time to go on separate pieces of personalized note paper, each to be presented at the office where each of the procedures were to be performed. I suppose you could call them “prescriptions” but they were nothing more than notes of what he needed done and where to go to get them done. After about a half an hour I was on my way with my surgery scheduled for one week later.
Monday morning at eight I went to the lab to have my blood drawn. I did have to wait for about 10 minutes, as I was the first to arrive for my blood work and the lab tech had to set up shop. I was told to return the next day to collect the results. By 8:30 I was on my way to the radiologist for a chest x-ray.
I arrived at the radiologist’s office at my appointed time of 9:00. I paid my $50 pesos (about $13 US), but did have to wait for about 20 minutes for them to call my name. Once summoned, I was directed to the x-ray room, removed my shirt, had my x-ray taken and went back to the waiting room. Ten minutes later the radiologist came out and handed me my x-ray. That’s right. After all, I paid for it and it’s mine. No, they don’t send it away to another office or anywhere else for that matter. They give it to YOU. It’s YOURS. Wow. What a concept!
By 9:40 I was done and on my way home for the day.
Tuesday I went back to the lab to get the results for my blood work. I paid $100 pesos (about $25 US), and they handed me the report. Again, I’m in shock. Putting these vital medical reports into the hands of the person who paid for them! You tell me when that happens in the US!
That evening I was to have my heart checked with an electrocardiogram. Again, I arrived on time but this time I had to wait for about a half an hour. Once called, I went into the doctors office, paid $95 pesos (about $24 US) and had my ECG. You guessed it. He handed me the results!
So here I am, having paid a whopping $62 U.S., and I have my blood-work report, chest x-ray and ECG in MY hands! Blasphemy!!!
The next requirement was to meet with the anesthesiologist to discuss my medical history, which is standard operating procedure as with any pre-op information gathering.
I did have to wait for nearly 1 ½ hours to have my name called but found out later it was because the receptionist has written my name down on the wrong doctors appointment list. If I had questioned the wait earlier I would not have been kept waiting so long. The cost for this consultation was $50 pesos (about $13 US). The anesthetist quoted me a fee but because I was paying cash he was prepared to reduce this by about 10%.
My final requirement was to go to the hospital where my surgery was scheduled to be performed and pay the necessary charges for the hospital room and procedures involved.
The total was $4,515 pesos ($1,150 US) (By the way, if you’re keeping a running tab on the expenditures, you should be at $1,240 US dollars.)
Now came the big day. I arrived at the clinic Friday morning at 8 AM and was checked in by 8:30. (Remember, I had made my first call to Dr. Hugo the previous Friday at 1PM). So here I am, one week to the day from my first contact, going in to have my surgery. I was taken to my room and given a hospital gown to wear. As I looked around, I noticed there were no medical devices built into the walls, no oxygen, monitors or any of the equipment you might expect to see in a US hospital, just a hospital bed, a chair, a locker and a TV on the wall. No worries. I really don’t care about how much stuff they have on hand in the room. I just want to get my hernia taken care of. A nurse came in and performed the necessary task of an abdominal shave, standard preparation for this kind of procedure. About 20 minutes later an aide came by with a gurney to wheel me off to the operating room.
Dr. Hugo was there and explained that I would be given a sedative intravenously, and then a spinal epidural to eliminate any sensation below the waist. That done and with me in la-la land, he began the operation at around 10 o’clock. By 12:30 I was being wheeled back to my room.
I will say that pain management is not a high priority here in Argentina, and for the first few hours after regaining full consciousness, I was quite uncomfortable. I had been given a sedative through the I.V. in my arm, but it wasn’t until about 5:30 when I was given a shot for pain. Luckily, a friend who is aware of the lack of pain management priorities arrived with some medication. (I should mention that most drugs and medications are available over the counter at most pharmacies. Antibiotics, antihistamines, pain meds are purchased just like aspirin or antacids. That’s why I called the doctor’s prescription a “shopping list”.)
I spent one night at the clinic and was discharged the next morning at 10:00. Dr. Hugo had come to my room, looked me over, wrote me a “shopping list” for an antibiotic and pain meds and gave me the “thumbs-up” to leave and return home to my own bed to recuperate. My cost for the meds at the pharmacy was $80 pesos, (about $20 US).
Now, as I convalesce for a couple weeks, I look back at this experience and compare the vast differences in attitudes towards health care, and the costs involved. I kept a running total and the bottom line, all pre-op tests, surgery, overnight at the clinic, prescriptions, everything, was just about $1,260.00 US. No, I didn’t screw up my decimal point.
Having had a few runs with hospitals and doctors in the US, (and insurance companies), I think it’s pretty safe to say that the same procedure in the US would have cost at least ten times that amount, maybe more.
Granted, in the U.S. my hospital room would have had all the latest technology, oxygen in the wall, heart monitors and other beeping machines, not to mention a button to push when you felt you needed some pain medication (to the tune of God knows how much money per “push”). But let’s face it, chances are your co-pay for the lab tests and prescriptions alone might have approached my total expenditures. What do you think you would have paid for the surgery and hospital stay? How much are you paying for your health insurance? How inflated is the price you have to “co-pay”? (How much did they charge you for that aspirin at the hospital?)
I never realized the magnitude of the financial rape the American people are subjected to, and the extent of the conditioning the public, to not only accept, but to defend a health care system that is so unbelievably inflated. “America has the best health care system in the world” we’re told. The question is, best for whom? Sure, we have all the latest gadgets and technology, but when it comes down to it, it’s the doctor and his skill that determines health care, and from what I’ve seen, the doctors here are just as capable and in some cases more capable than U.S. physicians. In fact, Dr. Hugo studied in the U.S.!
So, the next time you are facing a looming physical condition and are hemming and hawing about when to get it done and how much you are going to pay for it, why not consider taking a couple of weeks to travel to another country that’s been slammed or labeled by mainstream medicine and schedule your procedure. You just might have a new and enlightening experience, learn about a different culture, save a ton of money, and find out what Obama-“care”, Medi-“care” or any other U.$. “care” really mean$.
Oh, one final note. The doctors here don’t suffer from “omnipotence syndrome” either, they are friendly, approachable and human.
Twelve days after my surgery, I became a bit concerned, as I had not been “regular” as I had always been. I had already considered the fact that my gut had been subjected to invasive procedures and it should be expected that it would take some time for the digestive system to get back into the swing of things. However, I was quite uncomfortable with the bloated feeling I was experiencing and I figured I would give Dr. Hugo a call. When he answered the phone I explained to him my concerns and he said a bout with constipation was to be expected. He told me he was scheduled to perform a surgery, but if I could make it over to the clinic within the next fifteen minutes, he would have a look.
I happened to be in town at the time, so I made my way over to the clinic to find Dr. Hugo waiting for me in the lobby! Again, I am stunned. I didn’t have to check in, fill out forms and papers or sit around and wait. He beckoned to me to follow him down the hall to the examination room where he promptly gave me a quick look over, changed the dressing and explained that all appeared to be normal. “Here is a “prescription” for a laxative and another to have your abdomen x-rayed if you feel the need to, but I think you’ll find that you’ll start to loosen up in a couple of days.” There was no fee, charge or billing for my visit. In fact, I don’t believe there was anyone who cared one way or the other that I had waltzed into the facility, been examined and tended to! How pleasantly un-American!!
Felling somewhat reassured but still uncomfortable, I stopped by the farmacia to purchase the laxative as prescribed and went home to let things take their course. Now two days after the fact, I am smiling as it appears as if everything is starting to come out fine. (Pun intended)
Yes, I will be taking it easy for a few more weeks, but am looking forward to getting back to the woodpile and rough-housing with the kids.
Health care in Argentina. I reported. You decide.
About the author: Dave vonKleist is an activist/musician and a broadcaster for 30 years. A talk show host for 15 years, he has been involved with many controversial issues such as the 9/11 attack and an advocate for veterans rights.
He now resides in San Rafael, Argentina.
If you are interested in learning more about Medical Tourism please visit Escapeartist’s new section on how to reduce healthcare costs and improve your quality of care.