Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Our first experience with chilean healthcare

Well, we knew it would eventually happen. Someone would need to see a doctor. I just didn't think I'd be the first one! I'm pretty stubborn and don't go unless I'm near death. Just ask Andrew who went around for 2 days with a broken bone! Well, part of the problem was that even when we had insurance going to the doctor was scary expensive! But not anymore!
I had a bad cold which developed into a sinus/ear infection and I just couldn't shake it. I was sick in bed for 2 weeks and Jim finally convinced me to go to the hospital in Puerto Octay. It reminds me of a small county health department in the US. We had a friend accompany us who is very familiar with the system. We went up to the receptionist and told her we needed to see a doctor. I flashed my temp. resident ID. No insurance so we are self-paying (or particular is the word here). Ok, I hope you are sitting down for this one.
The fee to see the doctor is 12,000 pesos in US $ that is 24.00 please! Not too bad - so far so good
We went to sit down and wait our turn in the emergency waiting room and I'm thinking of all the illegal immigrants who flock to US emergency rooms for headcolds and don't pay the bill which drives up the cost of healthcare for all in the US but hey, it's different here and I paid my bill! But really, in Chile it is not the norm to go to a GP for all your families minor health problems. Most doctors down here specialize and if you are sick, you either go to the specialist you need or you go to a clinic or hospital. Most employed individuals have FONASA which is the state health insurance program which runs around $40 per month for a family. Co-pays are small and you can get good service at the private hospitals or the public but wait times may be longer. ISAPRE is the private health insurance program but I am not too familiar with it.
Anyway, I was called back after just a few minutes for a vital signs check before seeing the doctor. Then a few more minutes and I was in to see the doctor. He understood my english but spoke only spanish. He was very thorough in his check up listening carefully to my lungs to make sure I didn't have pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics for my sinus infection which could be filled right down the hall.
I was feeling a little nervous again thinking about how expensive meds can be in the US. We went back to the front window to pay for our meds before we picked them up at the pharmacy window. I had a 7 day course of antibiotics and a painkiller for the stabbing pain behind my eyes. It took a few minutes for her to flip through her notebook (we're talking low tech here) and figure out how much we owed. The total for both was 560 pesos - roughly $1.25. Break the bank - sigh of relief
We picked up the meds and were out the door in about an hour.
Socialized medicine? probably- the state heavily funds the healthcare system but they seem to be doing a good job
Healthcare is readily available and affordable - free to elderly and unemployed and disabled and it is high quality especially in the larger cities. On average, healthcare costs here are 1/3 that of the US, so I've heard but it varies depending on the treatment and Santiago prices are higher.
Overall, I was pretty happy with my first experience but it's been a slow recovery. I've finished my meds and I am marginally better. The pain is gone but now I've got a lingering cough, my ears are still blocked, and I can't taste or smell (that has it's benefits when someone forgets to take the trash out!) Jim thinks I should go back but I'm feeling stubborn again!
UPDATE- Well, after 2 rounds of antibiotics we gave up on the cheaper public healthcare and went to the city of Osorno for the private healthcare. We made an appointment at the Clinica Aleman with a GP recommended by a friend. $80 for the visit. It seems most doctors know at least marginal english so it went well.  The hospital was newer, nicer, and cleaner. I don't know if Chile just has healthier people but there was no waiting in lines anywhere. This time I had an xray (they tried to do this at the Puerto Octay Hospital but the machine wouldn't work). $70 for the xray showed I had pneumonia. I got a better medication and after 2 days I am feeling much better. It makes me wonder if the cheaper public hospitals just have a cheaper inferior medications available. You get what you pay for! and I just seemed to have a stubborn bacteria.


  1. You poor thing...sick for so long. ;( I'm sorry to hear that. But....WOW -- what a relief on the cost of care. Holy Moly. That is quite a shocker for those of us still paying through the nose WITH insurance. I'm happy to hear that you now know for future reference, as well.. :) Take care!

    1. I'm so glad you're feeling better!! At least you know now that you'll have the option. For the less serious issues you can hit the local....but for the serious, you have another workable solution. Sounds like a bonus to me. And affordable...which is another plus.