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MEXICO: Medical care



We thank Linda Nyquist for her report, based on wide experience: "This topic about health care in Mexico is close to me, as this is what I taught for a number of years. Most of the comments on this topic seem to be reasonable, although it is probably not true that very much "free care" gets given to anyone in Mexico, citizen or non-citizen. Although Mr. Escalante mentioned that you don't have to prove citizenship to get emergency or health services, all the hospitals that I saw asked for the patient's cartilla, which is an identity card used to access medical care. Non-citizens would probably not have such a card. Every public health hospital that I have seen charges on a sliding-fee scale, even though the official position is that these services are free. Foreigners for a very modest amount can purchase coverage at the IMSS (social security hospitals and clinics) during their annual open enrollment period.

Trauma patients are generally taken to Red Cross centers (not affiliated with the Intl Red Cross). I can't imagine that anyone would be turned away if the condition was an emergency. Private hospitals are another matter, and do want payment for services. You must pay your bill in full to leave the hospital, so family members have to get the money together any way they can. Any patient who has any money at all seems to prefer treatment by private physicians in private hospitals, even though the equipment might, frankly, be better at IMSS. Salubridad (SSA) has less equipment than the better-funded IMSS facilities.

So, if you are a non-citizen and need hospital treatment, do you get it free in Mexico? That is difficult to answer. Surely you be treated on an urgent basis at Red Cross; however, as soon as they stabilize patients they are transferred to other medical facilities, and anyone with any money would go to a private hospital. Social Security and public health facilities do not have the mandate to treat anyone for free except in dire emergencies.

Regarding physician attitudes and hospital facilities, I'd like to recommend WAISers to read Kajsa Finkler's Physicians at work; patients in pain. She followed some doctors around in an unnamed hospital in Mexico City and then wrote this book. My best guess is that the hospital she was in was the Hospital Juarez in downtown Mexico City. Secondary to the earthquake of 1985, the Juarez hospital may not be working anymore.

My question: I am surprised that the Mexican Red Cross is not affiliated with the International Red Cross. Is that because the former does not meet the latter's criteria? Last year there was some kind of a scandal in the Mexican Red Cross. I do not know the outcome. Then there is the Green Cross. I am surprised that no one has mentioned Montezuma's revenge, which is certainly an emergency and which was the object of a lively discussion, led by Eric Weiss, at our globalization conference. Despite Montezuma, it must not be confined to Mexico. I assume there is a world atlas showing the distribution of diseases. Montezuma's revenge must have several popular names, as well as a scientific one. What do Mexicans call it popularly? Cuauhtémoc's revenge? Gringoitis?

Ronald Hilton - 4/26/02


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