Ready to soak up the sun and chill on cool Caribbean vibes, or dive into resplendent wild rainforests? With its superb national parks, volcanic landscapes and 2,500 km of coastline, Panama is truly a tropical paradise. Idyllic living conditions combined with a favourable tax system make this small Central American country a popular destination among expats from all over the world.
And Panama’s attractiveness also applies to healthcare. The healthcare industry for medical tourists and expats is booming. With high quality medical services, highly qualified medical staff and relatively low health costs, Panama is one of the world’s top 10 health tourism destinations.
So, what does Panama have to offer in terms of medical services? Here is an overview of how the healthcare system works for medical tourists and expats.
Healthcare in Panama: a two-branch system
In Panama, health services are provided by both the public sector (the majority of health services) and a growing private sector. The two sectors operate separate coverage schemes and medical facilities.
Public Healthcare is operated by CSS et MINSA
At the state level, two bodies are responsible for the public administration and financing of healthcare for most of the population, that is the Caja de Seguro Social (CSS – social security administration) and the Ministerio de Salud (MINSA).
While CSS is responsible for both providing and financing public healthcare (through taxes), MINSA oversees health services nationwide and runs public hospitals.
Most of the population is relatively well covered by this quasi-universal health insurance system. Although the health services managed by MINSA are not always 100% free, they remain the preferred option for low-income Panamanians.
The public sector is currently undergoing an unprecedented expansion, with the construction of additional hospitals in Panama City and the creation of a network of medical infrastructure in the country. This massive project is funded by the government as it perceives medical tourism as a lever for development.
Private healthcare sector
Over the past fifteen years, the private health sector has grown significantly, with an increase in demand for private medical services of high quality and efficiency as well as an improvement of private healthcare facilities.
What are the advantages of using private hospitals?
- Shorter waiting times;
- Impeccable service;
- International standards for healthcare;
- Modern equipment;
- Highly qualified multilingual staff, mostly trained abroad.
These facilities are mainly used by higher-income Panamanians, expatriates and tourists whether they are covered by Panamanian health insurance, or they simply prefer to opt for more efficient and personalised health services.
In Panama, there are four major private hospitals that meet the international standards of the Joint Commission International: Hospital Nacional (HN), Centro Medico Paitilla, Hospital Punta Pacífica (HPP) affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Clínica Hospital San Fernando (CHSF). Since 2011, MiniMed, Panama’s first medical franchise specialising in walk-in primary care, has operated seven private clinics throughout the country.
In addition, private healthcare infrastructure has had to adapt to the growth of medical tourism, especially for dental and orthopedic care. While the HPP has a whole department dedicated to providing medical tourists with special packages, the HN has a ‘hotel section’ with private suites and new operating rooms for medical tourists.
What healthcare services do expats have access to?
Private/Public and Urban/Rural
While overall, Panama has a good healthcare system where health practitioners are recognized for the time and the attention they give to patients, there are significant differences between the public and private sectors, but also between cities and remote rural areas.
Health facilities (staff, medicine, equipment) are mainly located in urban centres, with the best ones in the capital. In Panama City, expatriates can turn to public health facilities or private hospitals, depending on their needs. For primary health care or minor emergencies, public medical facilities are sufficient, although waiting times can be long and accommodation rudimentary in case of hospitalisation. On the other hand, private hospitals offer patient-centred high-quality medical services and efficient management without delay.
In other cities such as Los Santos, Colon or Chiriqui, expatriates can rely on regional hospitals for basic healthcare even if the number of medical services available is less comprehensive than in Panama City.
In remote rural areas, healthcare is delivered in small health clinics with limited capacity. In indigenous provinces, MINSA provides basic outpatient care.
What is the cost of healthcare in Panama?
The cost of health services depends on the type of institution (public/private) and the complexity of the medical treatment, but in general, health services are relatively cheap, considering the high quality of care.
For example, a visit to a public specialist costs a maximum of €45, emergency visits to the hospital range between €25 and €90.
In the private sector, medical expenditures depend on the type of health facility. Although the fees are lower than those charged in other industrialised countries such as the United States with the same health standards, they can be quite high.
Most expatriates opt for private international health insurance to cover their medical costs in Panama.
Foyer Global Health, your health partner in Panama
Foyer Global Health provides entrepreneurs, employees, digital nomads and retirees with comprehensive and tailor-made health coverage wherever they are.
Why choose Foyer Global Health as your private health insurance?
- We are experts at providing health coverage to expatriates worldwide;
- Our insurance plans are tailor-made to your profile (single, family, entrepreneur…), your specific needs and life plan;
- We cover a full range of medical services, including dental, maternity and emergency care;
- Multilingual medical assistance;
- You choose your healthcare provider: you have access to all public and private facilities in Panama, your home country and everywhere else in the world;
- We reimburse your outpatient treatment costs without delay and no payment in advance is required in the case of hospitalisation
To find out more about our health coverage plans for expats in Panama, please contact our health insurance experts!