Residents, “pensionados” (retirees) and anybody legally living here have to pay into the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja) by law, whether they want to use it or not.
Over the years I’ve heard many positive and negative reports about the Caja, but a lot of these, particularly the negative ones, sounded just like critical versions of the social medical systems I was familiar with in England and Canada.
Since moving to this country, I have for many years been covered by the National Insurance Institute (INS) as a member of a private group medical policy.
Last year, due to health complications, I walked the hallowed halls of Clínica Bíblica, where I received exemplary treatment, until my insurance ran-out and I had to pay the extra cost out of my own pocket.
Last week, I developed an eye infection. So with a sense of trepidation I decided to pay my first visit to the Caja clinic in San Rafael de Santa Ana, west of San José. This was not a serious condition and I had to wait three days for an appointment at the clinic, where I’m registered because of my address. Unlike the extremely busy main clinic in downtown Santa Ana, this small branch is quiet and personal, and the day I visited I saw only two other patients.
As instructed, I arrived 15 minutes early for my 11 a.m. appointment. A very cordial, kindly nurse showed me into her office where she measured my height, took my weight and blood pressure, plus asked me the obligatory questions about my health. I couldn’t recall when I’d had my last injection for tetanus, but in the blink of an eyelid out came the needle and I was jabbed. She certainly was good at her profession – I didn’t feel a thing and there was no sign of bruising later.
Next I was shown into a charming, young doctor’s office, and he asked me if I would like him to discuss my medical history in Spanish or English. He spoke fluent English, was extremely thorough and I was with him about 20 minutes.
He wrote a prescription for my eye infection and told me the receptionist would make an appointment for all the lab tests necessary for a general check-up and an electrocardiogram, neither of which I had asked for. I have to wait for the appointments for six and eight weeks, respectively, but one has to bear in mind that these are just general check-ups with no urgency.
I returned to the clinic at 3 p.m. to pick up my prescription, which a young man had delivered on a motorbike.
Maybe my little clinic is an exception, but I most certainly will continue to use the Caja from now on. Like many of my friends, I was extremely happy with the courtesy and treatment I received.
As my young doctor remarked, “To equate a private hospital with the Caja’s services is like comparing a Mercedes Benz with a Volkswagen. The latter takes longer, is a lot cheaper, but hopefully gets you there just the same.”