Salud! To your health!

As I’ve mentioned before, Costa Rica has nationalized healthcare, called La Caja. Once I received my visa, I became eligible for, and mandated to buy, health insurance; for me, that’s about $40 per month.

After paying, the next step was to find my local health clinic. Costa Rica has public and private healthcare; Caja is, of course, public and covers everything from hospitals to doctors to medications. Caja is administered at locations, called EBAIS, throughout the country; one never has to go far for services. What everyone does have to do is wait; more on that later.

I asked around and was told that my EBAIS office was two blocks away in Escazu Central. I found it on a map and proceeded to walk over to register. The registration process was fast and efficient. I was then told that, when I wanted to see a doctor, I needed to go at 7:00 in the morning and get on line to make an appointment for later that day. I would then go home and come back at the appointed time.

As many of you know, I am not a morning person. So imagine my delight when I saw a poster in the EBAIS office announcing that, as of February 2nd, appointments could be made online. I then went home to schedule one as soon as possible. (My first order of business is to get prescriptions. Although I can buy most medicines without one, I have to pay the going price; the same meds with a prescription are free.)

When I tried to register and logon, I couldn’t. My account number was not in the system. I used the Contacto to ask for assistance and was given a different account number which worked. I then noticed that the calendar page for February was grey, which meant nothing was available. So I checked March. And April. And so on….for four years. I took this to mean that the website wasn’t functioning correctly, so I again contacted the agency. I received a response that it was fine. I tried the next day and found one appointment in February, which I booked. Almost immediately, I received a text confirming the date and time followed by “Bello Horizonte. Hmm.

I sent yet another message and asked what or where was Bello Horizonte. I was told that it was another part of Escazu, about 2 kilometers from my house, and that my case had been assigned there. This annoyed me somewhat, because the other location is very close. However, I can adjust.

The following Saturday was a beautiful day, so I decided to go exploring. I wanted to find the exact location when there was no time pressure so as not to be late for the appointment the next week. I walked for quite a distance to a charming, wooded area called Bello Horizonte. I had learned from my Spanish teacher that it was a less expensive part of Escazu popular with expats. I, however, saw only ticos.

The first person I approached ran a small, open-air grocery store. I asked if he could tell me where the EBAIS office was. He didn’t know it. I then asked if there was a medical clinic. Again, he didn’t know of one. Then, thinking maybe it was the doctor’s private office, I asked if he know a Dr. Castillo (whose name I got in the confirmation). He didn’t. I had the same experience six or seven times as I roamed the streets of what was clearly a small community where I was pretty sure everybody knew everybody. Confused and frustrated, I walked home and, for the third time, sent an online message asking for more specific directions.

The next day, before I received a response, I called the phone number on the website. A very pleasant young woman answered and, when I asked where and how I could find the office in Bello Horizonte, she said that my appointment would be at the clinic two blocks from my house. When I asked her why I was told Bello Horizonte, she explained “Oh, that’s where you were assigned. There’s no office there.” Yep. That’s what she said. This was later confirmed by the online person, who also said that the reason that the calendar months were grey on the website is that they need to keep spaces available for the people who line up in person at 7:00 am.

Yikes! Yet another example of conflict between old and modern systems in this intriguing country.

So next Friday, I will go to the EBAIS near my house and pray that my doctor will be there and able to see me. The adventure continues.