Get Insurance in the U.S., see a doctor in Mexico
Lately many Mexicans living in California have been driving back and forth between that state Tijuana, and it has nothing to do with celebrating Cinco de Mayo or satisfying a particularly bad craving of a Tijuana Special. As a matter of fact, they have been going way down Mexico way to see their family physicians. And just so there are no misunderstandings, this is not about undocumented immigrants sneaking in and out the United States in order to receive cheap medical care. On the contrary, these are legal residents who have signed for healthcare insurance through Covered California.
The state of California and its Latino inhabitants have been in a bit of a tug-of-war concerning healthcare insurance enrollment and coverage. But now it seems that many naturalized citizens and legal residents are trying to get the best of two worlds, or rather, serving two masters at the same time. Moreover, this trend is also gaining traction in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico, and in addition to T.J., destinations include Mexicali and Nogales. Among the reasons that these people drive up to 70 miles to see a doctor despite being insured in the U.S. are cost, language, time-efficiency, and doctor/patient empathy and rapport.
While some of these patients are either uninsured or in the payroll of American employers who offer insurance plans that pay for medical attention in Mexico, many others have actually complied with the Affordable Care Act. However, they have done so mainly to avoid penalties, or simply see it as something that’s behind a glass that says ‘break in case of emergency’. According to Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA School of Medicine associate director Steven Wallace, even with Obamacare it may be more economical to just go to Mexico. For example, Sistemas Medicos Nacionales, S.A. de C.V. (SIMNSA) –an HMO in Northern Mexico- charges patients a membership fee that enables them to see an internist or a specialist for $15 and $25, respectively. That’s it; no deductibles or out of pocket expenses.
And it’s not like you have to machete your way through the jungle while your sick child rides on a famished donkey on the way to an appointment with Dr. Nick Riviera, either. In fact, SIMNSA owns state of the art facilities that include specialty care, physical therapy, spa services and a pharmacy. There, patients can have get their eyes checked, lab results read, cavities filled, hearts examined, allergies treated and children vaccinated. If all of that wasn’t enough, patients get face-to-face time (about 30 minutes or more on average) with doctors who speak Spanish and are on a first name basis with their patients.
It all depends on the point view too, of course. According to some experts and studies, the jury is still out on the matter of quality. What’s certain, though, is that immigrants are not driving all the way to Tijuana only because they live in areas that are severely lacking providers, where waiting for an appointment is a frustrating experience. They do so out of trust and because they feel that they are being understood, and not just language-wise.