Health Insurance in Guatemala for Foreigners and Expats
Guatemala’s public health system is listed as 78th best health system in the world by the World Health Organization. But while Guatemala’s constitution states that every citizen has the right to universal healthcare, in reality, few citizens have access to free, comprehensive care. The national system is divided into three separate divisions. There is the public system, the private nonprofit system, and the private for-profit sector. Within the public system, the Ministry of Health and Social Security, the Guatemalan Social Security Institute, and the Military Health Service split responsibilities for providing health insurance in Guatemala. They face some significant challenges, including the fact that Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of chronic nutrition in the world. As well, Indigenous Guatemalans face significant socio-economic barriers to medical care. However, improvements are slowly taking place. Guatemala is on its way to achieving its Millenium Development Goals and to place more emphasis on preventative care.
Funding the Health System in Guatemala
Compared to many other countries, the Guatemalan government spends very little of its GDP on healthcare. At less than 3%, it has one of the lowest expenditures in Central America. However, this is an improvement from the era of the Guatemalan civil war, during which health spending was just 1% to 2%.
Part of the country’s funding problems stems from a long tradition of focusing on treating diseases instead of preventing them. A huge majority of public health resources are directed to hospital procedures, leaving precious few reserves for primary health care.
The Differences Between Private and Public Insurance
The differences between the private and public insurance systems in Guatemala are stark. The country’s civil war, which lasted over 30 years, meant that there was little focus on medical care for decades. As such, there was no real chance for services to grow and expand. The public system was greatly weakened and eventually turned to defacto privatization through attrition.
Today, the public system covers about 88% of the population. The remaining 12% of the population relies on the public sector. This includes for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, as well as traditional healers.
At its worst, Guatemala’s public health system can be extremely basic, especially in rural areas. Thankfully, standards in Guatemala City are much better and public hospitals provide satisfactory care. However, the best care comes from private hospitals and clinics. Some of the best facilities in Guatemala include Centro Médico de Guatemala, Hospital Herrera Llerand and Sanatorio El Pilar.
Read: Hospitals in Guatemala
Who is Eligible for Coverage
Public health services are free to all Guatemalan citizens. However, many secondary services, like blood work and radiology services, have been outsourced to private companies. With limited public resources, private services are often the only option for people to turn to. Unfortunately, these services are often too expensive for many people to afford.
Health Insurance System Options for Expats and Foreigner
Those who are not Guatemalan citizens must pay out of pocket for medical care. Given the country’s limited resources, especially outside Guatemala City, and the low availability of English-speaking doctors in the public sector, as an expat, you are strongly recommended to carry your own global medical insurance policy.
English-speaking doctors aren’t the only thing in short supply in Guatemala. Many public hospitals lack equipment, basic medication, diagnostic tests, and support staff. Private health facilities offer patients a much more comfortable, private experience with a superior level of services and specialist care. These services are often only available with private health insurance plans.
Best Private Health Insurance for Expats in Guatemala
Cigna Global Insurance Plan
- The flexibility to tailor a plan to suit your individual needs
- Access to Cigna Global’s trusted network of hospitals and doctors
- The convenience and confidence of 24/7/365 customer service
Best Global Health Insurance for US Citizens Living in Guatemala
Xplorer Worldwide Medical Plan
- Premium Benefits, Coverage and Service
- Define your deductible and prescription benefits
- For Foreigners in the US or US citizens abroad
Challenges and Changes
Guatemala’s healthcare system faces serious challenges. Infectious diseases continue to be a major health problem in Guatemala. As well, parasites, diabetes, and malnutrition continue to plague the system. All of these conditions and concerns are exponentially high within Indigenous communities.
Malnutrition problems are so serious that there has been a severe impact on the physical and mental development of children, with stunted growth and low weight being common problems. Approximately 44% of Guatemalan children overall and 58% of Indigenous Guatemalan children, in particular, are chronically malnourished.
Compounding these serious problems is a low level of staffing. There are approximately just .9 physicians for every 1,000 patients.
Understanding Mayan and Indigenous Health
Between language, nutritional, and income barriers, Guatemala’s Mayan population faces huge obstacles when it comes to receiving proper health care. The life expectancy of Guatemala’s Indigenous population is up to 15 years less than that of other citizens. The country’s civil war only exacerbated the challenges this community faces. Additionally, Indigenous Guatemalan communities embrace medical pluralism. This refers to the intersection of beliefs regarding traditional or holistic medicine and Western biomedical health.
This community is often served by what’s known as the “Maya Mobile Clinic” or the “Other Public Health.” Traveling salespeople serve as a medical resource for Indigenous Guatemalans and those in rural areas. Purveying natural ingredients and touting their health benefits, the salesmen of the informal Maya Mobile Clinic network have little to no medical training. However, they act as a bit of a bridge between the Indigenous communities and the public clinics. In short, they’re certainly a better choice than having no medical services at all. But they’re far from being a comprehensive source of healthcare. As well, as the majority of traveling salespeople are men, women’s care and children’s care needs are often overlooked.
Maternity Care in Guatemala
In Guatemala, the national maternal mortality rate is 73 per 100,000 live births, a rate that doubles for rural Indigenous women. One contributing factor to this high mortality rate is the young rate of mothers. Over 30% of Guatemalan brides are young women and girls under the age of 18. When they give birth without having reached physical maturity themselves, serious complications can arise. Another contributing factor is the state of maternal healthcare.
Worried about high infant mortality rates, the government is encouraging more pregnant women to give birth in designated health centers. However, Indigenous women face language and cultural barriers at the health centers, as well as sometimes outright discrimination. In Guatemala, comadronas fulfill a role similar to a doula for many pregnant indigenous women. They are hired to guide a woman through pregnancy, labor, and post-partum care. There are 23,320 comadronas registered with the Ministry of Health in Guatemala.
However, despite the vital role they play in supporting pregnant women, including delivering babies, teaching breastfeeding techniques, and prescribing traditional pain remedies, they are rarely respected as medical practitioners. Often, when comadronas bring their patients to the health center, they are not allowed to stay, causing mistrust among practitioners and fear in patients. Until the role of the comadrona is more fully integrated within the system, improvements to maternal care will be slow to develop.