A few days ago, I asked the question, “Is US health care driving Americans to move abroad?” The response was swift.
“Of course it is,” wrote Lya Sorano, Atlanta businesswoman. “Hardly a month passes in which I do not hear about a friend-of-a-friend or former neighbor decamping to Mexico or Costa Rica. I may be next . . . :-)”
Mary Duckworth Mimouna, living in Morocco, responded:
“It was one of the major factors prompting me to move overseas in 1993 when I did with my foreign husband. We had no health insurance in the United States, and an uncomplicated one night delivery in the hospital at that time, plus about eight pre-natal visits was running $10,000. In Morocco, at that time, specialists were charging $10 a visit, and three nights in the hospital with the slightly complicated delivery (vacuum extraction) cost about $500.
“However, if I had not been ready to consider a move overseas anyway, it might not have happened. However, I cannot see how I could ever come back unless they do something about health care.”
A real estate agent in Mexico commented, “I would have to say yes. Many US expats I have talked with share the same view on the US health care system.”
Carol Schmidt, from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, wrote:
“US and Canadian citizens aren’t moving to Mexico specifically for cheaper health care but for an overall lower cost of living and improved way of life, in which lower medical costs are a big part.
“I don’t think anyone is flocking to Mexico just to get treated at Mexican general hospitals and sign up for the Mexican social security health insurance, IMSS.”
Michelle, expat in the UK who blogs as the American Resident wrote:
“I greatly appreciate the NHS [National Health Service] in Britain and with aging parents I hear a lot of the downsides to the US system. It’s frustrating at best and really enraging at worst. Pathetic that such a great country has got this wrong for so long–or more accurately, that such a great country has let Big Business rule their decision making for so long.”
One site visitor went even farther:
“You have got it right on. This country is no longer by the people and for the people. It’s by the big corps and for the big corps! We are planning our move within the next year and it’s out of here.”
However, a journalist living in the Netherlands disagrees.
“How many people can just pick up and move, obtain live/work visas, get jobs, and organize their lives in a new country just like that? How many have the money to do this? Do they sell their homes in the US? Can they speak the language of the new country? Are they willing to accept third-world health care?
“No, I don’t think this is happening at all.”
“. . . 6.6 million Americans do not live overseas because of health care. There are other reasons to go abroad. Moreover, as I said before, it’s not like you can just pick up and move to another country at whim. It doesn’t work that way. “
We’ll be looking at this topic more in the next few months, I’m sure. In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss it further, please fan the Future Expats Forum page I started on Facebook, where it’s a little easier to carry on an actual conversation.
I began seriously thinking of moving abroad, first to Spain and then to my beloved Latin America, in 2000. I began the process and it was quickly cut short by the diagnosis of mini-strokes and then Alzheimer’s in my elderly father. My mother wasn’t physically or emotionally able to care for my father so I started doing more and more until mid 2004 when I realized they needed more care. I moved them back from Florida to NYC and soon I was their full time caregiver as millions of others are or will be in the US.
I took my parents to Panama in 2006 after first going there twice myself to check out the country and to make contacts with an eye towards moving all of us that year. For a lot of reasons it didn’t work and we’ve been back in NYC since then, deeply regretting not staying in Panama. My father died soon after our return and my mother’s physical health and cognitive functioning has declined since then.
If anyone doubts the seriousness of the health care crisis in the US let me tell you a story of one recent hospitalization of my mother. She was in hospital for two days in May. She got a balance due bill last month for $220 so I requested a copy of the original bill because she’d never gotten it. What she received shocked me and everyone else I’ve told about it.
The bill for her two day hospitalization was $20,000. The charge for the room alone was over $7,400 a night. With the charges for the ER, medications and tests, it came to $20,000. That’s for two days. Her medicare HMO paid everything except for $220 which prompted the balance due bill to my mother. The ER doctor charged a separate $600 for which he/she was paid around $200.
My mother has been hospitalized twice in the past three weeks, once for six days and once for three days. I will request copies of those bills even if she doesn’t get a balance due notice. I can’t imagine what I’ll see on those bills.
My question is for the administration, the congress and anyone who’ll listen. What’s up with paying those kinds of charges to a hospital for two days of hospitalization and more importantly, how long can Medicare afford to pay those kinds of amounts without folding? I’m not sure how my mother’s insurance works as it’s a private HMO administering the Medicare insurance, but I’m assuming Medicare pays for a chunk of it.
I didn’t start out wanting to leave the US for health care issues and probably wouldn’t consider it the biggest reason for wanting to live abroad, but as I currently have no health insurance because it would cost about $1,000 per month, it does present another strong reason to go. I’ve done extensive research on which countries to move to, but in the end, we need to go to a country where the medical care costs are low and the care good, because my mother, almost 85 years old, can’t buy health insurance, except perhaps in Mexico, where I’ve been told there will be up to a three year wait for coverage of pre-existing conditions. I’m not a lover of Mexico although I believe I’d be able to get fair priced medical insurance there for myself and perhaps affordable cost of care and medications for my mother.
I never believed that the issue of health care affordability would play such a big part in where I choose to live in the next few years, but there it is. I’m thinking that when the whole story of what’s happening here to our health care system and economy, lots of others will move abroad to save their lives.
I am soon to move from the UK to Australia, and maybe later on to Canada. Now, neither of those have as expensive a health care system as USA, but it’s still a significant increase compared to the UK. I don’t think most of us Brits appreciate what we have here.
We were shocked to see how the National Health Service was portrayed in the debates over health care reform in the USA. The standard of reporting was terrible, with most of the British shown on reports either extremists who were rejected by all the mainstream political parties, or people whose quotes were used out of context, and tried to get them withdrawn when they saw how they were used.
Mike, thanks for your comment. It seems as though the British NHS is consistently portrayed as the worst possible medical care by those who are working against health care reform here. We Americans need to hear more directly from Brits who know and use the system.
Then I recommend this:
Not just for the original information, but for the comments.
Future Expat, I wrote a blog post that addressed that exactly: it is a summary of my experience as an American living in the UK for 15 years and getting my healthcare through the NHS. Anyone who is interested in reading it can find it here: http://potentialandexpectations.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/this-americans-experience-of-britains-healthcare-system/
(Also, I came across your website through a backlink from my blog, so I don’t know if someone has already linked to it from here, but I couldn’t find it — sorry if I’ve inadvertently duplicated).
Regarding expatriating purely for the sake of healthcare, I agree with the journalist from the Netherlands that it is such a huge undertaking that probably most people can’t/don’t do it for healthcare alone. However, I know many, many American expats who moved abroad for a variety of other reasons but will now not return to the US *solely* because of the healthcare system. In some cases, it’s because they’ve developed pre-existing conditions; in others, it’s because they’ve watched family and friends struggle with costs and access; in every case, it’s because they are happy with the healthcare they are receiving in their new countries. So, it’s not exactly expatting for healthcare, but it’s similar.
Wow! I just read your article, and all I can say is “thank you!” Anyone concerned about health care in the US should read this first-person account of experience with the British National Health System.
arizona health insurance
This country is far from beaten. What the brit hasn’t seen is the sleeping anger that american citizens build just before they put their boots on and go to kicking. Our government has foolishly tested those lines this time and it won’t be forgotten.