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Medical Insurance: To Have or Not to Have? (Part 1)

Mike and Jacquie Champion

Angelique of Vancouver
Coast 34
June 16th, 2019

When Mike and Jacquie decided to sail south ‘til the butter melts’, one of the questions they were asked is, “Are you going to carry medical insurance?” It was valid question, as both of them are in their late 50’s and Mike’s family has a history of heart attacks. In this first part of their article, they will introduce their thinking around medical insurance and share one of the medical issues they had in Mexico. In part 2 of the article they will share a couple more medical issues they had to face, and their conclusion on this very pertinent question: Should cruisers have medical insurance while cruising? So… stay tuned…


Cost of Medical Insurance

Before Mike retired, we looked at extending his work health insurance, but the cost was beyond our cruising budget. It would have cost an additional $12,000 a year; about $1000/month for both of us to be covered. This did not include dental or extended health. Since we were not going to be in BC for 6 months of the year, we decided to pay for basic health coverage from BC Medical at $150/month per couple and go without travel insurance.

We did, however, decide that for the duration of traveling in the USA, we would have medical travel insurance. The cost was about $300 for about 2 months. In Mexico, we would have a low interest, high limit credit card to use for emergencies. We have traveled in Mexico before and knew that the health care system is very good, with quality trained medical professionals. The costs in the USA compared to Canada are stunning, but in Mexico it is very reasonable, hence the rational for relying on paying cash for services if needed in Mexico.

Medical History

Mike’s family medical history is riddled with cardiac issues. Mike’s parents both have or had heart issues, with his father having had a triple bypass. In my family, we don’t have the same heart conditions but we suffer from high blood pressure, which can lead to heart conditions. Mike and I both are on blood pressure medications as well as cholesterol medicines. With this in mind, we decided to head to Mexico with a year’s supply of prescriptions.

I also need to mention that 2 weeks before we left for Mexico, my doctor told me that I had a 9mm kidney stone. It was frustrating, as I have been telling her for over a year that we would be leaving on an extend trip on our sail boat to Mexico, and that we would not be near medical facilities for months at a time while at sea or traveling. I asked her if it could be dealt with before we left BC, but she said that they wouldn’t blast the stone. I asked her what I was to do if it started to pass and her response was, ‘You will be in a lot of pain and to seek medical attention’. Remember that I had told her we are heading out on a sailing adventure and won’t be near medical facilities. I guess she wasn’t listening.

With all this in mind we confidently headed south. Mexico here we come!

La Cruz, Mexico Heath Issue #1

La Cruz, Mexico

The first time any health issues arose we were in La Cruz, Mexico. We had safely traveled through the USA, without incident thankfully. In 2008 when we cruised through the USA, Mike ended up in Fort Bragg emergency with a staph infection. They put him on an IV drip for 8 hours, total cost with our travel insurance, $300. If we hadn’t had travel insurance it would have cost well over $3,000 USD for those 8 hrs. Luckily, nothing like that happened while we were in the USA this cruise.

While Mike was the one with medical issues on the 2008 trip, this time in 2018, I’m the one who had medical issues. In La Cruz I caught a cold, presumable from the air conditioning in the cruisers lounge while attending a seminar on cruising to El Salvador. Since this is one of the things that we intend to do in the future, we thought we should take advantage of the free seminar, not realizing that the room would be so cold. I developed a serious sinus cold. I was stuffed up so badly I couldn’t breathe at night and was self-medicating with Tylenol cold medications with a decongestant.

I also was medicating with allergy meds, something I don’t normally take, because in Mantechen Bay I had over 100 JeJenei bites on my legs. I was so itchy and the bites had swelled so much that I self-medicated.
These two issued on their own may not have been an issue except that I found out later with my blood pressure meds I should never use a decongestant.

I was coughing so badly, I wasn’t sleeping and had a constant migraine from the strain on my sinuses. One day while stepping off the boat, heading to the beach, my vision suddenly was covered with black squiggly lines. It was so distracting that I couldn’t concentrate on where I was walking. It was disorientating. Everywhere I looked all I saw was black squiggly lines. Mike had to guide me up the dock and ramp to the marina office for a recommendation for a doctor in the area.

I was seriously scared that I was going blind. We had only arrived in La Cruz a few days before and we didn’t have a feel for the area. Luckily for us, we met Kat at the top of the ramp. Kat is the La Cruz marina manager and she could see that I was in distress. She gave us the name and number of a local doctor. We called him on his cell phone, I described my symptoms and he told me that he thought I had a detached retina.

What do we do? He said he would try to contact the optometrist that he uses for his kids, who is a personal friend of his and also the leading optometrist in the Puerto Vallarta area, and call back in 15 minutes. While waiting to hear back from the doctor, I’m freaking out. What is this going to cost us? We should have gotten travel insurance. I’m going blind. This will end our trip right here.

Hospital in Puerto Vallarta

If we were in home in Canada, I would not have gotten the response I did in La Cruz. The doctor called back in 15 minutes and I had an appointment at 4 pm with the optometrist’s ex-wife, second best in the area. We were an hour  away, but the cab driver didn’t know the hospital and we don’t speak much Spanish, so we called the doctor who provided directions. What great service.

The Optometrist was very friendly, spoke very good English, and was very gentle and reassuring as she examined my eye. She determined that I did not have a detached retina, but a small rupture in a blood vessel next to the optic nerve. She wanted me to see her ex-husband about the small rupture, but that everything else looked fine.

The Optometrist explained that as we age, the fluid in our eyes, vitreous, dries out and we get black floaters, sometimes these can be quite severe and cover your entire vision. I was lucky that it cleared and only have one smaller black floater that comes and goes from my vision in my right eye. The blood vessel that ruptured caused the initial black squiggly lines and my body reabsorbed the blood cells,

I also had a follow-up appointment with the General Practitioner who had referred the optometrists. I learned from this doctor that a decongestant should never be used in combination with my blood pressure pills. He provide me with a prescription for the extremely bad sinus cold, that would work with my blood pressure prescription. Within days my cold subsided and the black squiggly lines diminished. So word to the wise, be careful self-medicating. A small thing like a cold could lead to other complications.

The total cost, including the two specialists seen within 3 days of the initial contact, meeting with the GP and prescriptions drugs for the cold and for my eye was 3,500 pesos, about $250 CAD. With the panic of a detached retina over, we continue on our trip south to Chamala, Tenacatita and Barra de Navidad unsuspecting that we would soon end up with another medical emergency.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article to be published next month!

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  1. Avatar Helen Roberts says:

    Hi Jacque

    We wrote an article for Currents about breaking my ankle in the US on the way to Mexico. We made all the same choices as you and I am happy we did. The ankle break was covered it would have been $30,000 US if I hadn’t had insurance. In Mexico I fell again and it was a total of $275 for my emergency visit, ortho consult, x-rays. I spent about $350 for about 6 physiotherapy visits and that was money well spent. We had our teeth cleaned in Mexico for $50 each and in Fiji for $30. We also had them done in Australia for $200 each. Meds are a pain but my husbands diabetes meds are partially covered by my Canadian coverage which we are still paying for and then we get them shipped with DSL (not cheap). It’s a patchwork but it’s working. SV Shamata