In keeping with my desire to clarify some commonly-held myths about Mexico, I want to share my experience with the pharmaceutical and medical facilities here, in arguably one of the most Americanized sectors of the country. First of all, let’s talk about the availability of prescription drugs over the counter–one of the most vaunted perks of visiting Mexico.
I went to the Farmacia here in Ajijic, to see if I could get my prescription of Celebrex filled. On my health plan in the States, I can now get the generic brand of this on my prescription plan for $20, for a full 60-day supply, or 30 cents per pill. If I insisted on the non-generic brand, it would cost about $150, or $2.75 per pill. (Isn’t that crazy?) ANYWAY: at the Farmacia, I showed my prescription to the pharmacist. They immediately gave me a box of “real” Celebrex–10 tablets for 280 pesos, which is about $14, or about $1.40 per tablet. So while it is true that you can get most prescription meds here over the counter easily, they are not necessarily cheap. I could have asked for generic, perhaps, and it could be that being in such an Americanized place they ask higher prices than elsewhere, but I must say I was a little disappointed.
Now for the medical situation: in my never-ending quest for better knee mobility with less pain, I have been getting hyaluronic injections (rooster combs!) for the last two years or so. I got them before we went to Europe last year, and this is also what I got in Barcelona last February (and there paid about $700 for 3 shots and 3 visits). In the States, my health insurance (Scan, or supplemental Medicare) does cover most of the cost–I think I have to pay about $75 for 3 injections, or some thing like that. But I can only get that done every six months, and as we are now on the road until June, and my six months is only up in April, I felt the need to see if I could get the shots here. We have been told that Guadalajara, and hence this region, has very good medical facilities, and very good doctors. And indeed, my friend here knew just who to call: a young orthopedic surgeon who comes to Ajijic once a week to treat all the North Americans in town! I sent him an email asking if he could provide Synvisc injections, and he personally called me to say he could, and told me to call the office to set up an appointment. I saw him yesterday, he gave me a physical examination, asked all the right questions, and even recommended that I get only a one-injection course, and that the right knee wouldn’t really be helped by a Synvisc dose, since what was wrong with it is something other than what Synvisc treats (so better treatment than on my U.S. health plan!). All went well, he gave me the nearly painless injection himself, and wished me well. The doctor speaks perfect English, has studied with major orthopedists in the States, and operates in the major hospital in Guadalajara, where many Canadian and American patients come for operations (he’s a shoulder specialist).
The bill, as you can see above, was 10,500 pesos–about $530! All of this must be paid in cash–cards are only used in Mexico in touristy places, as far as I can tell. We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they were more than willing to let us return with the rest of the payment later. The doctor was willing to write a thorough report for my insurance needs–of course, I still have to have him sign the insurance company’s physician’s form, fingers crossed he will do this for me, and fingers crossed the insurance company will reimburse me for at least some of this amount. So that’s my experience with the medical community: again, these high prices may be because we’re in this American enclave, and I’m sure that those who come on “medical tourism” trips for operations in Guadalajara can indeed get major operations, done very well, for far less than it would cost them in the U.S. or in Canada. But for what I had done, I would say the prices are comparable to what one would have to pay at home.
I hope this clarifies some of the myths about healthcare here. It can be more expensive for non-natives than one had been led to believe.