It’s typically a big news story with headlines blaring from a U.S. or Canadian newspaper. It may read something like: “U.S. Citizen Held Hostage in Mexican Hospital”, or words to that effect. It happens several times a year, maybe more often. And those are just the ones you hear about. But it’s really just a story about paying your hospital bill in Mexico. Someone is stuck in a Mexican hospital because they can’t pay their bill.
Maybe it’s a girlfriend, like the couple of young lovers who went on vacation to a resort community in Mexico and she had a life-threatening allergic reaction to that oh-so-delicious seafood dish they had for dinner at that charming beachside restaurant.
No, she hadn’t checked to discover that her employer’s insurance didn’t cover hospitalization outside of the U.S. Who was thinking about that when you were busy worrying about finding a swimsuit that made you look even hotter for the trip? This was supposed to be a birthday celebration for crying out loud.
Fortunately, the young man had a credit card the hospital accepted. She got good emergency treatment, but his line of credit was quickly tapped out bringing the birthday vacation to a halt. However, like many travelers—and many expats—they didn’t understand that private hospital care is most frequently on a cash-only basis in Mexico and many U.S. health insurance policies don’t cover hospital stays outside of the U.S.
Having good insurance that covers you worldwide isn’t always an immediate solution either. Many private hospitals will not accept an assignment of benefits from your U.S.-based insurance company even if your insurance does cover foreign hospitalizations. This includes some employer-provided policies, even if you are traveling on business for the company or working in Mexico. You really have to check.
Even expats who have international insurance with comprehensive medical coverage may be surprised to discover that they’ll have to pay using cash or credit and then file a claim against their own insurance company in order to collect benefits. And then it gets complicated when the bills you are given in Mexico are in Spanish and pesos (as is to be expected) and your insurance company wants you to have the itemized bill translated.
What to do? I’ll tell you next time in part two of my blog.