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Expat Exchange - Essential Guide to the Health System in the United States
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Essential Guide to the Health System in the United States

By Joshua Wood, LPC

William Russell
William Russell

Summary: Learn about the health system in the United States: how it can and cannot be used by expats, nomads, retirees and others moving to and living in the United States.

The United States has a complex healthcare system that includes both public and private options. The public healthcare system is known as Medicare and is funded by the federal government. It is available to all US citizens and permanent residents, but is not available to foreigners. Private healthcare is typically more expensive than public healthcare, but is often seen as a better option for serious medical emergencies and major surgery.

The United States's Public Healthcare System

The United States's public healthcare system is known as Medicare. It is funded by the federal government and is available to all US citizens and permanent residents. Medicare covers a wide range of medical services, including hospital stays, doctor visits, and prescription drugs. However, it does not cover services such as cosmetic surgery, long-term care, or dental care. Foreigners are not eligible to use the public healthcare system in the United States.

The United States's Private Healthcare System

The United States's private healthcare system is typically more expensive than public healthcare, but is often seen as a better option for serious medical emergencies and major surgery. Private hospitals in the United States are typically well-equipped and staffed with experienced medical professionals. Expats and digital nomads typically use private hospitals for their medical needs, as they are not eligible for the public healthcare system.

The United States's Top Hospitals

The United States has some of the best hospitals in the world. Some of the most well-known hospitals in the United States include:

  • Mayo Clinic (private, Rochester, Minnesota) - specializes in cancer care and organ transplants
  • Cleveland Clinic (private, Cleveland, Ohio) - specializes in heart care
  • Johns Hopkins Hospital (private, Baltimore, Maryland) - specializes in neurology and neurosurgery
  • Massachusetts General Hospital (public, Boston, Massachusetts) - specializes in orthopedics
  • UCLA Medical Center (public, Los Angeles, California) - specializes in pediatrics

Health Insurance Companies in the United States

The most popular private health insurers in the United States are Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare. These companies offer a variety of health insurance plans, including individual, family, and employer-sponsored plans. Expats and digital nomads typically use specialized expat health insurance providers, as they are not eligible for the public healthcare system.

Insider Tips from Expats in United States: How to Navigate the Health System

"In the United States, medical services are generally of a high quality and are widely available. Patients have access to a wide range of medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and specialists, as well as a variety of treatments and procedures. The US healthcare system is largely based on private insurance, although there are also public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid that provide coverage for certain individuals. Patients have the right to choose their own healthcare provider and can access a variety of services, including preventive care, emergency care, and specialty care," commented one member living in the United States.

"Find out before coming if your current insurance is accepted by anyone here. I found that not all clinics accepted Blue Cross, which surprised me! Many locals travel to Guam or the Philippines for serious medical procedures, so keep that in mind if you are not in good health, or would not be able to travel to get care," commented one expat living in Saipan, US.

"Healthcare services in the United States are provided by a mix of public and private providers. The public healthcare system is largely funded by the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid programs. Quality of public healthcare varies by state and region, but generally is considered to be of a high standard. Foreign residents are not eligible for public healthcare in the United States, however, expats in the United States may be able to access public healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. Expats may also purchase private health insurance plans to cover their healthcare needs," mentioned one expat living in the United States.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


William Russell
William Russell

William Russell
William Russell

Clinton, New Jersey

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