In the News from Panama

Health Care Costs Driving Retirees to Panama City

A new study confirms what we’ve been hearing for years in Panama City. Medical costs are the biggest concern for people as they grow older, according to a report by the Bank of Montreal.

This isn’t a surprise to anyone involved in property in Panama City. We see more and more people visiting to take advantage of the excellent and relatively inexpensive facilities, and then they decide to buy a home.

But the report out of Canada, coming from a respected source, is still interesting. According to the bank’s study, 74 percent of the Canadian respondents identified medical costs as their biggest expense as they grow older. Other factors, such as food, clothing and housing, were not even close.

People are simply worried about health costs. Part of the reason is that people are living longer.

“It’s clear there is a major demographic shift happening in our country,” Chris Buttigieg, senior manager of wealth planning strategy at BMO Financial Group, told the Canadian Press. “As Canadians’ longevity continues to improve, they should account for the health and financial issues that come with the possibility of living a longer life.”

Here in Punta Pacifica, we see that health care is also affecting people’s investment and home buying decisions. People are realizing they don’t have to follow the system set down by their local government. In 2010, 875,000 Americans were medical tourists, according to a study by Deloitte.

Panama is logical destination for medical tourists and retirees worried about health care. Panama offers a largely English-speaking medical community and procedures can be 40 to 70 percent cheaper in Panama than in the United States, according to a report on medical tourism published by the National Center for Policy Analysis. For example, an $80,000 dental implant procedure in the U.S. will cost about $25,000 in Panama. For the uninsured–and the underinsured–this savings is worth the cost of a short vacation to Panama.

All types of medical procedures are available in Panama. Elective procedures such as cataract surgery and cosmetic surgery are in the forefront of the public’s attention, but more acute medical treatment such as knee replacements and open heart surgery are also available. Other procedures that top the list are those not covered by traditional insurance, such as fertility treatments.

Panama has been working hard to attract these medical tourists and provide them with the necessary facilities. Many doctors are Western-trained and speak English, and Panama has several well-accredited hospitals meeting U.S. and Canada standards

A few examples of the facilities offering state-of-the-art care currently available in Panama City:

  • Hospital Punta Pacifica has an affiliation with world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital and has an accreditation from JCI.
  • Centro Medico Paitilla is converting former hospital wards into private rooms. They are also creating skyway links to the Hard Rock Hotel and the MultiCentro Shopping Mall.
  • Hospital Santa Fe offers health plans and is on the process of applying for International Accreditation.
  • Hospital Nacional is just completing a $25 million renovation.

These excellent facilities around the city provide every imaginable type of care with the latest technology, all typically priced at a fraction of the costs in the United States and Canada.

The Bank of Montreal report made it clear that Canadians are looking for different choices:

“The need for financial security becomes more apparent as we age,” the report stated. “When regular employment income is no longer part of the equation, the wealth accumulated during your working years may help to fill the gaps. Uncertainty about future health care costs and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) has forced us to become more resourceful and to seek out other long-term solutions.”

Panama is one of those long-term solutions. We hear it from happy Canadian and U.S. buyers all the time.

And, by the way, the BMO report was carried in the Huffington Post which included a slide show entitled, 10 Places Perfect For Retired Canadians. Panama, of course, is prominently featured on the list, which notes Panama “is quickly becoming known as the number one retirement destination in the world for retirees who want to leave their home countries.”

Duncan McGowan is president of Punta Pacifica Realty, a Panama real estate agency focused on Punta Pacifica, the exclusive neighborhood of 18 towers perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.