University of Medicine and Health Sciences

    Health Care Around the World: Uruguay & the ‘Mutualista’

    Posted by Scott Harrah
    Jul 9, 2014 8:59:31 AM

    The South American nation Uruguay has what some consider one of the world’s best health-care systems, with doctors trained in Europe and a hospital plan known as a “mutualista” that costs an average of $185 U.S. monthly and covers many common procedures.

    The “mutualista” is similar to the “health-care concierge” plans at some U.S. medical practices and has many pros and cons. In this installment of our Health Care Around the World series, the UMHS Endeavour looks at Uruguay’s system and what North Americans and students at American and Caribbean medical schools can learn from it.

    Uruguay’s 'Mutualista' System

    The small, Spanish-speaking nation of approximately 3.2 million, bordered by Argentina to the west and Brazil to the north, has a public health-care system that can be used in emergencies, but most Uruguayans rely on a hospital plan called a “mutualista.”

    Following are the highlights of the Uruguay “mutualistas” from InternationalLiving.com, a website that ranked the country as second place in its Global Retirement Index 2014.

    International Living’s David Hammond, a Uruguay resident for seven years, says “My personal experience with health care in Uruguay has been positive. The cost is a fraction of what I paid for private coverage in the U.S.”

    He notes the following:

    • “With a mutualista, you become a member of a hospital and go there for all your scheduled health care needs. You make monthly payments to the mutualista and also pay a small co-pay when you see a doctor or have a medical test.”
    • “A mutualista is different from health insurance. There is no deductible, no lifetime cap, and no complicated terms to decipher. Each private hospital sets its own guidelines for accepting non-employed members (such as retiree expats). Some hospitals will not take new members over a certain age or with certain pre-existing conditions.”
    • “It’s easy to find good medications, both generics and brand-name drugs. (Do note that brands may not have the same names as in the U.S.) Cost can depend on your hospital plan. Many offer a 50% discount.”
    • “If you prefer to buy health insurance instead of joining a mutualista, health plans are available with a variety of coverage options.”

    In the comments section of the website, one reader criticizes the Uruguay “mutualistas” for maximum age caps of “58 to 60.”

    In addition, while David Hammond praises the system as attractive to expatriates, he also notes that it has limited appeal for English-speaking people. Why? Most Uruguayan doctors only speak Spanish, so “consider coming with someone to interpret for you if you don’t speak Spanish.”

    Even so, U.S. health insurance companies and people interested in making amendments to the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) can learn a lot from any plan that doesn’t have a deductible, many of which are far too high in most U.S. private insurance and current Obamacare health plans.

    (Top photo) URUGUAY: The South American nation’s ‘mutualista’ health plans get raves from Americans living abroad. Pictured: Punta del Este Bay. Photo: Wikimedia Commons



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    Posted by Scott Harrah

    Scott is Director of Digital Content at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City, StageZine.com.

    Topics: Medicine and Health

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