Cheap Health Care, South of the Border

For American retirees the Pacific coast town of Manzanillo, Mexico is paradise. The weather is always warm. Every home has a view, without a million dollar price tag. And a doctor's visit doesn't cost a penny out of pocket.

CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports Billy and Sandi Hunter retired to their dream home in Manzanillo. Then they learned they hit the healthcare jackpot: full medical, dental and vision coverage for $600 a year.

"It was a great deal, and the care is good," Billy said.

The Hunters bought into the Mexican Social Security Institute, or IMSS - a government-run health care plan for Mexican employees but open to legal foreigners.

"When we leave our doctor's office, if we have a prescription we go pick it up," Sandi said. "No charge, so we like it."

There are no limits, no deductibles and no co-pays. Even pre-existing conditions are covered after the first one to two years.

Doctor Ivan Ocadiz is a doctor in Manzanillo's IMSS hospital. He said the number of patients from the U.S. increases month by month.

The hospital is new, but without the comforts of a U.S. facility: few private rooms, extras like blankets are brought from home, and families are expected to help feed and bathe patients. But when it comes to diagnosis and treatment, Americans here say it's just as good, sometimes better than the U.S.

Craig McDole was taking more than a dozen pills prescribed in the U.S. when he collapsed on a tennis court in Mexico. He went to an IMSS hospital.

"When my internist there saw what I was taking, he went nuts. 'What do they have you on all this medicine for?'" he said.

McDole's feeling well now. Dr. Ocadiz said, "he's perfect."

But the system isn't perfect: long lines, waiting lists, not enough doctors or in some cases, not enough medications.

IMSS is designed for Mexican workers who've been paying into the system for decades and it's already financially strained. Some worry a flood of American retirees could bankrupt it. The Hunters would like to see their own government come up with an alternative.

"I wish they could stop arguing and find a way to help as many people as are helped here," Sandi said. "This is simple. It's not perfect, but a lot of people get good care."

Without it, the Hunters would struggle to afford paradise in their golden years.
  • Kelly Cobiella

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