9 Healthcare & Health Insurance Tips for Expats in the Philippines
Summary: Expats in the Philippines have a lot to say about the quality of medical care, hospitals, prescription medicine availability and health insurance in the Philippines.
Here are 9 healthcare tips for expats living in the Philippines and those preparing to move to the Philippines - topics include choosing health insurance in the Philippines, keeping Medicare coverage, hospital stays and more.
Should Expats in the Philippines Keep their Medicare Coverage?
One member considering a move to the Philippines inquired, "I will cancel Medicare only if I am certain that I will live permanently in The Philippines. For me, it's all or nothing. Either I live here full time or I return to America. I am interested in PhilHealth which is available to non-citizens of The Philippines. Do you know anyone who has PhilHealth and in your opinion, is it worth the money?"
"Stories vary and while I have it have never used it. Most say for it covers 60 to 70% of most hospital stays. Plus it will greatly speed up your admission to the hospital. You mentioned Medicare and I hope you are aware it will do you no good outside of the USA or her territories. Out here you would have to fly to the island of Guam. About a three or four hour flight from here," cautioned one expat.
Although that sounds like a warning, traveling to Guam for medical care is covered under Medicare and is a possibility for expats with non-emergent health conditions that require specialized care.
Private Health Insurance for Expats in the Philippines
"Blue Cross Philippines, not associated with BC USA, seems a good one. However, rates rise sharply after 65 and do not cover previously existing conditions. They have both dollar and peso plans at several levels of coverage. The 'previous condition' caveat leaves most of us retirees out in the cold because it refers to conditions which existed before the policy is signed WHETHER OR NOT THEY WERE KNOWN. That exemption covers a lot of territory. Think cardiac conditions and cancer," warned one expat in a discussion about medical insurance in the Philippines.
"If you have a serious health condition most insurance companies will not cover you. Healthcare for smaller complaints as said is cheap but for major ops and illnesses it can be crippling expensive. I have friend who could not get insurance because of a bad back injury, he lived here 4 years developed a heart condition, the hospital said he needed a bypass op 800,000 pesos, he said I will go home bit they said he couldn't fly. He booked a flight went back to UK got free accommodation over 60 went to doctors was told his heart was bad but did not need a bypass at all. He is on medication for heart problems also Parkinson's disease and diabetes. Being treated for free. Philippines is great as long as you have a fair income and good health," explained one expat.
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PhilHealth National Health Insurance in the Philippines
Many expats in the Philippines choose to join PhilHealth, the government-owned, national health insurance program in the Philippines. Expats are eligible to enroll in Philhealth under the Informal Economy member-category of PhilHealth.
PhilHealth is very cheap for us -- mere dollars each month. And it pays like that too. But it has been a sure ticket for entering emergency rooms. I've experienced 3 different ones. Some require pre payment for individual services. Some not. Medical services have been great 5 out of 6 times," recalled another expat.
"PhilHealth is good value but only offers a discount. Most medical insurance plans don't cover beyond 60 and gets very expensive. It is common to just keep an emergency fund in your home country bank account," recommended one expat in the Philippines. "It's difficult to argue against PhilHealth at 900 pesos per quarter (3,600 per year), which is for those in the 'informal' sector with more than P25,000 per month income. Even if you don't end up using it -- it's very inexpensive from a western perspective," said another expat.
Are Expats Charged More for Medical Care than Locals in the Philippines?
"If you can afford it, get health insurance, but the rates are higher the older you are, and if you're over 60 they go through the roof, that's if they will insure you. Be aware that many doctors here, who will charge you in excess of the regular charge as a 'skin tax' as we are perceived to be able to afford it. Also hospitals will add on extras not necessary, i.e., they always insist on a drip, but it only contains saline solution," commented one expat in the Philippines.
"Here in Cebu at doctor's (my experiences based on just two years) you'll be accommodated same day and my three different doctors (cardo, GP, and ortho) charge 500 pesos per visit. My one emergency room visit last year was quick, professional, caring-based and inexpensive... less then 1000 pesos for a two hour visit with tests. My annual last month included a chest ex-ray for 435 pesos, complete blood work-up at 4,135, extensive heart echo plus reader fee at 4,350. All completed as a walk-in within a few (3)hours. Yearly Dental check up is 500 pesos. All other services are easily 1/4 of US fees," explained one expat.
Local vs. Public vs. Private Hospitals in the Philippines
"Local Emergency hospitals are normally for maternity so no x-rays just a bed and a couple of nurse. Broken arms, etc. are transferred to the nearest public hospital, but their conditions are very, very 3rd world and you could wait for hours to be attended. Also you must have cash up front before anything is done ie, x-rays etc. Private hospitals are faster and better conditions, but are expensive, and again cash or credit card is necessary up front. You will not be allowed to leave the hospital until full payment is made. Locals can leave after signing promissory notes. This is breaking the law, but hospitals still carry on this practice regardless," explained one expat.
Many Hospitals in the Philippines Require Payment Upfront
"If you are unfortunate to be involved in an accident, they will send you to the nearest hospital, if you are not coherent, they will not treat you until a family member comes up with the payment details. You could die while waiting, but that is not their concern," wrote one expat."I've seen both scenarios here. Somebody dying on the hospital steps due to the inability to pay for services, and somebody being held, and incurring additional charges, due to the inability to pay on the anticipated release date. Ask Filipinos what will happen if somebody has a life threatening condition and no money," explained one member.
Upfront payment isn't required at all hospitals in the Philippines. "Regarding payment in Hospitals , I needed Hospital treatment on my back a couple of months also I went to Davao doctors Hospital , I have to say they did not demand any payment before I had treatment neither were they aggressive or rude in anyway , after my treatment I was just directed to where I paid for my treatment they were kind and courteous all the time," recalled another expat in Davao.
For Hospital Stays, You'll Need to Bring a Spouse or a Friend to Help You
It may seem bizarre to many expats, but you'll need to have someone with you to take care of you if you have to spend time in a hospital in the Philippines. It is not common practice for nurses or hospital staff to take care of you. One expat said, "About a month after I got here I laid down my motorcycle (out on the highway). I wasn't seriously injured but I hit the ground pretty hard on my right side (my wife landed on top of me, which probably didn't help in the injuries to me department). I ended up being taken, by ambulance, to a larger hospital 1.25 hours away. I was fully conscious, able to talk, and able to discuss things with the staff, nurses, and doctors. What I couldn't do is move around very well, I hurt a lot and was swelling badly at my right hip. Good thing my wife was with me because she was the one that had to take care of me; go get prescriptions, go buy a special soap (road rash in a bitch), go buy bandaging material, help me to the bathroom, bring me water, get me food, help me turn over in bed, etc, etc. The staff and nurses do none of this, you must have someone with you. You might be in a hospital bed due to a fever, or malaria, or a bad flu, or whatever, but if you're there, you need to have someone with you to help you."
Availability and Cost of Prescription Medicines in the Philippines
"All your regular meds are or should be available here although some might be under a different name. Good news is that you will not need a Dr's Rx to buy meds in the country. As long as you know what you need you can just get. But till you are sure of brand names, be sure to use a major pharmacy chain such as Manson Drug or Mercury Drug. They are nationwide and can handle anything you need," commented one expat living in the Philippines.
"I live on a max 80,000 pesos (about $1700 US) monthly in a mid size town. This includes monthly rent of 15,ooo pesos, cost for owning a car and eating out often. I just went to the doctor that is a specialist and it cost 600 pesos. I then purchased a 4 month supply of medication for 5600 pesos (about $121 US) that would have cost over $1200 in the US and require a prescription. The cost of living in the PH is a plus," confessed one expat.
Bring Your Complete Medical History and Extra Meds with You
One expat shared an important tip that can be easily overlooked when moving abroad, "Be sure to bring a complete medical history and record for everyone as doctors here will not request them as they do there at home." Another added, "Bring your extra meds with you, but don't over do it, there may be problems at the airport customs if you bring excessive quantities. Better yet bring a doctor's certificate stating you need those drugs for your ailment(s). Prescription drugs here are spotty; sometimes they're out-of-stock or don't carry them."
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.
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