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  • HealthCARE Lab

Health Diaries: Michelle'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.

Michelle lives with her partner and two dogs. She is a dedicated medical assistant at the county hospital in El Paso. She counts herself as lucky because she has good medical insurance through her employer. Before this job, she did not have employment that offered medical insurance. She likes having the security of not going into debt if something happens to her. She feels “grown up” now that she has a career path and insurance, and like that, she can go to the doctor whenever she feels sick. If the wait is too long, she can always cross the border and be seen immediately in Mexico.

She likes the convenience of medical care in Mexico. She never waits more than 30 minutes and can buy any medication she needs right away. She knows she will be seen by a doctor, can travel home, and will start feeling better by the end of that day. She said the tradeoff is that Mexico makes her uneasy. The recent violence she has heard about makes her nervous anytime she visits there. Because of this, Michelle checks the Mexican news to see if anything has happened before she decides to make a trip. If she does see a spike in violence, she waits a few days for it to die down.

Michelle leaves her car in the U.S. and crosses the bridge on foot. As she reaches the bridge, she tries to read if there is a worried vibe or any tension by looking at the faces of those crossing back into the U.S. Normally, people are chatty, so if they are rushing or seem more alert, something may be up. She also tries to dress in a more masculine way to avoid the risk of being targeted as a female.

Michelle likes to do research to get the best deal and will often check online or call different stores in both the U.S. and Mexico to find the best price. She likes to get laser hair removal there, massages, dental, vision, and anything else that her insurance may not cover in the U.S. She would have to weigh out the pros and cons if she needed surgery but would hope to get it in the U.S. if her insurance were to cover it.

Last year, when Michelle tried to get pregnant, her doctor in the U.S. switched her to hormone injections to be more effective. She felt discouraged when she got to the pharmacy, and one injection cost $1700. She didn’t want to go into debt for something that may not even work. When she called her doctor to ask about options, the office mentioned that the injections would be cheaper in Mexico, and other patients had done that successfully. At first, she was nervous to go because she didn’t want to be judged for being in a relationship with another woman. She was worried she might be targeted once she revealed this and ultimately felt safer in the U.S. She ended up going and felt good about her doctor. All three injections cost $500 total in Mexico.

If it weren’t for the huge price difference, Michelle would like to get all her medical care in the U.S., where she feels things are more regulated and she wouldn’t have to wait in line at the border.


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