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  • Graham Byers

Healthcare in Puerto Rico

As someone who rarely gets sick, I wasn’t super concerned about healthcare when I was first moving to Puerto Rico. I knew I’d figure it out by the time I got to the island, which I did. That being said, however, I highly suggest figuring out what you’re going to be doing for healthcare before you make your move, especially if you’re going to need specific monthly medicines or to see a speciality doctor of any kind. Although Puerto Rico’s healthcare system is closely tied to US social security, Puerto Ricans don’t receive all of the same benefits as people on the mainland US do. And, interestingly, about half of Puerto Rico’s population relies on public health insurance, Medicaid. However, most Americans who have moved to the island choose to use a private health insurance provider, which gives them access to the island’s private hospitals and clinics. At the end of the day, every one has different needs when it comes to healthcare. Below are a few of the things to keep in mind when deciding what to do for healthcare once you move.


1. Shortage of Doctors


As I’ve discussed in previous posts, Puerto Rico was drastically affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed thousands and severely damaged large parts of the island. Following this, industries of all kinds - including medicine - began to move out of Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s bright future and its obvious comeback, the island’s healthcare system is still playing catch up - mainly because there is a shortage of doctors on the island. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to see a doctor. Rather, it just means that wait times - especially if you don’t have private health insurance - can be pretty long. It’s important to keep this in mind, especially if you need to see a specialist of any kind at all. However, if you do have private health insurance, it will be a lot easier and less wait time to see a physician.


2. Public Healthcare


I would highly suggest getting private health insurance if you are going to move to Puerto Rico. That’s because - in addition to a shortage of doctors - the infrastructure of public hospitals and clinics tend to be poor and waiting times can be over twelve hours for an emergency. That being said, if you cannot afford private health insurance, you have a few options. Similar to the US, Puerto Rico provides its citizens with Medicaid. However, as I stated above, because Puerto Rican medicaid doesn’t provide its citizens the same benefits as people on the mainland US, it’s not ideal. However, it does provide free or low cost services exclusively through public facilities. Eligibility is income based.


Similar to Medicaid, Medicare is also free or low cost for citizens who qualify. In order to qualify, according to the government website, users need to meet the following requirements: Aged 65 or older; Receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) for at least 25 months; Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) (pacificprime.com).


3. Private Healthcare

Most people who have relocated to Puerto Rico from mainland US choose to enroll in private healthcare. And, the good news is, it’s typically less expensive than private medical insurance on the mainland. There are several options to choose from when picking a private healthcare company, so be sure to do your research and see what works for you before deciding on one. Additionally, most insurers are typically more open to cover pre-existing conditions than they are on mainland US.


4. Consult US Hospital Finder

If you do have private health insurance, I recommend going to US hospital finder to locate a healthcare provider in Puerto Rico. Not only is it super easy to use and straightforward, but you’ll also be able to find doctors close to you and what doctors are covered by your insurance.


5. What To Do In An Emergency

Just like you normally would - in case of an emergency, dial 911. Operators typically speak Spanish, however, if you don’t know Spanish, you can ask to transfer the call to an English speaker which is done quickly. It’s important to note, however, that ambulances are run by private companies so they actually require payment up front. If you are insured by a private health company, however, this is typically included.

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