Health Diaries: Jacob's Journey
This story is part of the Health Diaries series where we report the struggles and actions of Americans who, despite having insurance, must cross the border into Mexico to get the healthcare they need.
When Jacob's father became ill and had to move in with Jacob to have supervised care, Jacob became worried about his own health. Jacob described himself as severely overweight, a big cigarette smoker, and as someone who drank too much alcohol. His job did not help his weight issues because he said much of what he did all day was drive from location to location as an electrician for a municipal district.
He became aware of how unhealthily he had been living and resolved to make changes to provide a better future for himself and his two kids by first accepting his company’s medical insurance coverage. He then went to a primary care provider that explained what he needed to do to help reduce his weight and conquer the addictions of drinking and smoking. Jacob started to improve his health by eating less and avoiding smoking. He felt ready after seeing this doctor because they sat down and wrote down his goals and created a plan of action for Jacob. Jacob recognized his unhealthy habits but said he never avoided seeing a doctor.
Jacob began losing weight and started to feel better. He also began looking for other ways to be proactive about his health and well-being. His first visit to Mexico for healthcare began after he realized vision exams and eyeglasses were hundreds of dollars less in Mexico. He explained that having good insurance for doctors’ visits and hospital care was important, but he needed to take care of his eyes too, especially as an electrician.
Although Jacob did not speak Spanish fluently, he started calling different vision centers across the border to learn about their appointment process for someone from the U.S. He quickly realized that he did not need an appointment and that he could come in any day of the week for an exam and eyeglasses fitting. On his first trip, he traveled with a friend who was fluent in Spanish, and they decided to make a day of the trip. He reported that he could buy anything he desired in Mexico because the prices were so low relative to the U.S. Whether for prescription or over-the-counter medication, spare parts for his car, kitchenware and cooking utensils, jewelry, clothing, or industrial equipment, he felt good finding bargains across the border. He liked that he and a friend could travel through small towns looking for auto parts and clothing without the costs in the U.S.
However, Jacob feared for his safety in Mexico, so he avoided the bigger cities like Juarez and Reynosa. Instead, he would travel to smaller towns with less border-crossing traffic and fewer reports about killings.
Although Jacob is of Mexican descent, he and his family have lived in the U.S. for several generations, so they rarely visited Mexico when he was a child. In Mexico, he was surprised to find that locals were warm and kind to him and that no one was interested in giving him a hard time. He will continue to go back for vision care and is thinking about seeing a dentist as well.
Jacob remains concerned that the prescription medications he obtains in Mexico may not contain precisely what they should because they are surprisingly cheap compared to the U.S., but he must make concessions when the medical bills start adding up.