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Health Diaries: When Medical Insurance Isn’t Enough


Health Diaries: When Medical Insurance Isn't Enough

A painful shoulder can cost an insured American hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in medical costs with x-rays, MRIs, appointments, and more. Multiple visits to the doctor and several weeks later, that painful shoulder may still remain. For many Americans, medical insurance does not cover enough of the cost or lost time to offer a solution. Some find an unexpected workaround: traveling to Mexico.

Mexico offers relatively cheap and easy access to doctors with fewer hurdles in place to acquire medications. With doctor’s visits averaging about $2-3 and many medications similarly priced, U.S. consumers can quickly purchase potential solutions.

In this series, we report the struggles and actions of Americans covered by medical and dental insurance in the United States who nonetheless must cross the border to get the care they need. Each week we will describe how teachers, police officers, and medical professionals make choices about when to visit Mexico, why they choose to for this particular medical need, and what happens when they return. For some, traveling into border towns is a short drive to visit relatives, while others trek many miles to a country they have never visited for the prospect of better health.

These people are seeking good health, to be pain free, and to live long and happy lives. They want to create relationships with their doctors and learn how to better use their insurance. However, they also have little time and limited resources, which makes travel to Mexico a sensible, if not desirable, option for immediate relief. Their resilience, ingenuity, and courage are striking.

Notably, each of these individuals also seeks healthcare in the United States. They are looking to solve what they believe to be minor ailments like a sore throat, headache, and stomach pain, but also better treat more complex problems such as kidney failure, cancer, and mental health disorders.

We highlight insured Americans because debates about whether and how insurance coverage may improve access receives significant attention, while what happens to the insured’s health after receiving said coverage often remains undiscussed. By shedding light on these stories, we hope to inspire more conversation about healthcare access and affordability for all.

Each story is crafted from interviews and observations of healthcare shopping in the U.S. and Mexico. For the privacy of the interviewees, names and other identifying information have been removed.

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