Health Care in Argentina

Shady Room in the Italian Hospital in Buenos Aires

For the past week I’ve been in and out of hospitals and doctors offices around Buenos Aires. Nothing major, I just had a cyst on my upper back that had gotten infected and needed to be removed. Gross I know, but I’m all about full disclosure.

The whole event has pretty much ruled out any good sleep for the past few days because i’ve gone right from class to the hospital(s) and then to work.  However, throughout the process I’ve asked a million questions about the Health Care System here in Argentina and have learned a lot about how it all works.

This post isn’t for everyone, but I figure if I can help save some people the headaches and hassle of what I’ve been through this past week then it’s worth it.

DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that that I DO NOT HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE. I had the STA Insurance plan when I first got here but that expired on January 1st and I didn’t renew it.

MY HEALTH CARE ADVENTURE:

First of all, I wanted to find an English speaking doctor and found a bunch on the US Embassy Doctor List “Medical Care in Argentina“. I chose Dr. Raul Kelly under General Practice. His office was right in Recoleta next to the bar so it was very convenient. His “office” was in an apartment and was old and minimal. He had a Norman Rockwell painting on the wall which was comforting but then he had a giant wood carved bear lamp next to it that completely freaked me out. His English was perfect and it sounded like he had a lot of experience (although he was specialized Gastroenterologist). He said he was also the doctor for American pilots who came through Buenos Aires and spent a lot of time working in the states. Okay, so I’m thinking… background check: sufficient.

He took a quick look at my back and gave me some antibiotics from a closet that spilled pills as he opened it. He also gave me a contact at the British Hospital (Hospital Britanico). He sounded like he knew what he was talking about but he definitely rushed through our consult. I had to stop him a few times and tell him to slow down. The whole “medical consult” took about 10 minutes and he charged me $180 pesos (which I still haven’t paid).

The next morning (before class) I went into the British Hospital to meet the surgeon he suggested I talked to. The hospital was small but looked like any you would find in the states. Pretty sure they had a normal hospital staff full of specialists and medical billing workers. The surgeon’s English was decent and he basically told me that I needed to see a specialist the next day. I wasn’t charged anything for this trip.

Day 3, I went back into the British Hospital to meet with the “specialist”. I waited much longer this time and English speakers were few and far between. The people at the front desk had to call someone from a different floor to come speak to me in English to sort everything out. The same girl also helped me speak to the“specialist” whose English was progressively worse than the previous two medics had seen. British Hospital with limited English speakers? Weird.

After a brief chat we determined that the infection would have to be removed that week. I first went to the cashiers office where they explained the cost of the procedure (with english speaking assistance). And then I went back into the surgeons office to determine what his cost would be. I guess they’re separate.

In total, the British Hospital was going to charge me $785 Pesos for a 10-minute operation. $285 for the equipment and $500 for the doctor. Furthermore, I had already paid $120 Pesos for the “consultation” with the specialist that day.

That seemed a bit crazy to me so I told them I needed a day to think about it. As soon as I got to work that night I started asking everyone for advice. Within the first half-hour of being at work my boss had his doctor on the phone asking if he could see me tomorrow (Wednesday). The doctor agreed and I was pumped to have another option.

The next day I went to the Italian Hospital (Hospital Italiano) but this time I brought my roommate Sergio along for backup. The hospital was a lot older and larger than the British Hospital. It actually felt like I was walking into a hospital in Sicily. The medical equipment however seemed up to par and they had a big mural in the lobby of what looked like a proposal for new facilities.

The doctor saw me immediately and spoke in good English. after only about 2 minutes of talking we ventured off to find an abandoned operating room. So there I am, in this empty white walled room with only a bed and a sink, my Colombian roommate and confidant Sergio, and 3 Argentine doctors (2 of which were in street clothes).

They shot me with some local anesthesia (I think) and then cut me up. There was a good amount of blood, pain and laughter but the whole thing didn’t last more than 10 minutes. I paid for the procedure with drink coupons from the bar that my boss had given me. In retrospect, I should have waited until after the surgery to give them the coupons because throughout the entire operation all they did was talk about the beer and girls at Buller. Uh, can we focus here guys my back is split open!

It was a little sketchy but it saved me $800 pesos and a good amount of pain. I don’t want to speak to soon but I definitely got lucky. I have to go back again in about 2 months to actually have the cyst removed so I will keep you posted.

MY TOTAL COST: $120 consultation (didn’t pay other) + $80 antibiotics = $200 Pesos

ARGENTINA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM INFORMATION:

ALL EMERGENCIES ARE FREE - no matter if you go to a public or private hospital, if you are tourist or a resident of Argentina everyone will treat emergencies for free without paperwork or insurance.

Otherwise there are two major options… private vs. public medical care. Let’s break it down…

Public Health Care

  • Need to be associated with a hospital
  • Public Hospitals require Argentina paperwork.
  • Lots of people, crowded and not easy to get a checkup.
  • Free for residents of Argentina (not tourists).
  • Lots of paperwork & waiting.
  • Strange hours: Paperwork needs to be done very early in the morning.
  • No insurance required.
  • BEST: Hospital Fernandez

Private Health Care

  • Superior Hospitals, Service & Equipment.
  • Fast, no waiting, easy to schedule an appointment with a doctor.
  • Also need to be associated with Hospital or Insurance – But tourists can do it (passport).
  • Most speak English.
  • Don’t need Argentina I.D. (Citizen) or lots of paperwork.
  • Isn’t free, you need to get an insurance plan (below).
  • - BEST: SwissAleman Hospitals – yet more expensive.

Private Insurance: ($150-800/month)

  • OSDE – From what I hear this is the best. They have language preferences & program options
  • Medicus – More expensive, similar options.
  • Swiss Medical has insurance plans but I think they are also more expensive.
  • Galeno is another provider that I don’t know much about.
  • I believe other private hospitals like the Aleman, British and Italian all offer similar insurance programs.
  • Dentists are included in almost all programs.
  • In my opinion it’s definitely worth it to go private/private insurance.

Helpful Links:

Medical Care in Argentina – US Embassy Doctor List

Argentina Health Insurance questions and quotes from Baexpats

The New Medical Tourism Mecca from The Argentimes

Health Insurance in Argentina from Expat Argentina

Medical Facilities and Health Information from The US State Department

STA Travel Insurance from STA Travel

There is also Social Security & Worker’s Insurance funded by Obras Sociales that I know little about.

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9 Responses to Health Care in Argentina

  1. This would be my worst nightmare getting ill or having something wrong with me in a foreign country, not speaking the language and have no medical cover!! What were you thinking about!Lucky you had a friend to help out and you got through all that in one piece! I’m sure this post will be good advice for other travelers

  2. Thanks for the info. It’s really stressing if you do not have a health plan or money to go to a private hospital. I’m not against public hospitals but everyone knows that there’s a lot, nope, there are tons of things they should to improve their medical services. Sad but this is the harsh reality that people who do not have the money encounter every day.

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  4. You were really lucky to find treatment and get your infection treated but it seems as though you were sent from pillar to post! Hope you remained well with no recurrence!
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  5. We are really happy to find treatment and get our infection.

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  8. Dumb American tourists who expect to travel all over the globe with only English, and who don’t take the trouble to learn languages. And who don’t take the trouble to research initially. And then have a “story” about their adventures with their problems.

    It would have been helpful to mention that1 US dollar is about 8 Argentine pesos. And to specify that the monthly cost given for health insurance in in US dollars.

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