Belize Health Insurance
Belize is small country located in Central America sharing its borders with Mexico and Guatemala and with the Caribbean Sea running down its East coastline. It has a population of slightly over 300,000. It is the only English-speaking country in Central America, having gained independence from British control in 1981.
The Belizean healthcare system has been subject to reforms and development for many years, with the focus on improving the health care in the country and the lives of the Belize people. The Government and the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Belize are responsible for the health sector in the country and are leading the current major reforms of health care now being undertaken.
Part of the Belizean health sector reform is the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI), which is a planned Belizean government health initiative to fund the country's healthcare system. The Belizean NHI scheme is not fully operational, yet but since 2003 the largest city Belize City has adopted a pilot project, with further expansion planned in the future. Full coverage of the Belizean NHI has not been implementated due to financial limitations and early flaws in the system. However, when it is completely adopted and integrated into Belize's social system it promises to provide all Belizean citizens with free public healthcare access.
The reform and development of the Belizean healthcare system is being undertaken in partnership with international aid organizations, namely the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Development Bank (IDB). The healthcare system reform is part of a strategy under the Belize Health Agenda for 2007-2011. The health agenda is focused on improving the health sector by addressing weaknesses in the previous system through decentralization, increasing investment, and ensuring universal access to health services; the overall objective being to improve the health and wellbeing of Belizean citizens by developing the healthcare system in Belize.
It is estimated that approximately 33% of the population of Belize is poor and roughly 10% is extremely poor or indigent. Part of the healthcare reform in Belize is to address the issue of access to health services for the segments of the population who struggle to meet medical costs.
The Belizean healthcare system is comprised of both publicly and privately run healthcare facilities, which is financed through local private health insurance and public schemes. The MoH in Belize currently provides citizens will low or free health services from publicly run health providers.
Currently Belize has no comprehensive public health insurance but does have a Social Security Scheme, which only provides medical cover for “job related diseases”. The Social Security Board (SSB) in Belize is a state run entity, in which Belizean citizens or residents in employment over the age of 14 – either employed or self-employed – in the country need to register for. The Social Security Scheme requires participants and their employers to make regular payments to the SSB, entitling the policyholder to claim for medical expenses on work-related injuries or diseases. The Social Security system also provides sickness, maternity or retirement benefits if someone is unable to work. It is compulsory for all foreign nationals who obtain Belizean citizenship, residence status or a work permit to join the SSB, however it will only afford them limited access to health services.
The public healthcare sector in Belize is managed by the MoH and is divided into four regions – Central, Western, Northern and Southern. Publicly run healthcare facilities are comprised of hospitals and health centres, which delivers health services to Belizean citizens. The MoH subsidizes some medications and necessary treatments like vaccinations and emergency surgeries, however there are fees to be paid by the patient for things such as laboratory test and x rays – while these services are affordable for most of the population, the extremely poor struggle to meet the cost of health services. The Belizean health sector is limited in the health services it can provide to patients – a problem in both private and public facilities – therefore procedures may need to be outsourced to a neighboring country. In these circumstances, the Belizean MoH only partially meet the cost of treatment, with the patient being required to contribute to the remaining medical costs.
Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City is a national referral hospital run by the Belizean MoH and serves all four districts of the country, and Belize City. It is equipped as an Accident and Emergency centre with a dedicated pediatric unit, and provides numerous tertiary health services for patients. It is home to some of the most qualified medical specialists in Belize, caring for patients whose medical needs cannot be treated elsewhere in the country.
The Belizean private health sector has grown significantly over recent years, predominately the in urban areas in Belize. The coverage by private healthcare providers is comprehensive with a wide range of secondary and tertiary health services available, but costs can be too expensive for many Bezilean citizens. In conjunction with the development of the private health sector, the acquisition of private health insurance has increased over the last two decades, with Belizeans who can afford it using insurance to meet medical costs in Belize or to give them health cover in other countries where more comprehensive health services are available.
The Belize Medical Associates is a private healthcare provider situated in Belize City, offering a comprehensive range of health services including – 24 hour emergency services, cardiac care, intensive care, operating theaters, radiological and laboratory services. Belize Medical Associates is a hospital established more than 20 years ago offering health services in a modern private facility; foreign nationals may feel more comfortable in this facility.
The Belizean healthcare sector implemented the Belize Health Information System (BHIS) in 2008, which is a continuous project to improve information systems and management of patient data in both private and public healthcare facilities. The BHIS was initiated as a comprehensive tool to assist the Ministry of Health in providing the best possible healthcare services in Belize, by improving efficiency and cost control.
Belize's healthcare system is plagued by a shortage of medical professionals. A large proportion of doctors, medical specialists and nurses are foreign nationals working across the Belizean health sector, with a vast number of foreign doctors working as volunteers. There are also shortages of medical supplies and a lack of modern medical equipment in the country, which severely hinders the delivery of health services in the country – the shortage of vital medical equipment and supplies is more notable outside the main cities and towns. Emergency services are confined to urban areas, with little or no ambulances available in remote areas.
While minor health issues can be dealt with satisfactorily and primary healthcare is usually adequate to meet most patients’ needs, facilities across Belize are generally limited when it comes to trauma care and advanced medical treatments. The better quality healthcare facilities in Belize are located in Belize City, but it is still restricted in the medical services it can offer to patients. It is strongly recommended that all foreign nationals – either short term visitors or expatriates – should obtain Belizean international health insurance; this should include provision for the possible use of air ambulance services for transfer to another country with a medical centre of excellence and for the possible need for repatriation.
Belize is a country blighted by waterborne and vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever, which have a significant impact on the health of the Belizean population and place pressures on the healthcare system in the country. Part of the Belizean healthcare reform is to control and monitor disease out-breaks and to put in place preventative health controls to minimize out-breaks and the consequential negative impacts on the country.
It is recommended that foreign nationals seek a doctor’s advice before going to Belize to ensure all vaccination are up-to-date and for health advice on preventative measures to be taken to protect yourself from potential diseases while in the country. It is important to ensure all safeguards are in place to prevent the possibility of contracting diseases such as malaria, which is endemic in Belize.
Belize's healthcare system is currently still going through a transitional period, although it showing early signs of improvement. The MoH and government in Belize are committed to implementing positive health schemes and further development, although medical services are still limited in what can be delivered to the patient. Ensure you have international health insurance for Belize which includes coverage for all medical services which may be needed whilst in the country.
As a foreign national in Belize you are liable for all medical costs for health services in public or privately run healthcare facilities. You need to bear-in-mind the standard of healthcare across Belize is limited, but there are private healthcare providers – especially in Belize City – which offer a better standard of medical services, and cater for foreign nationals. However, the cost of health services in the more comprehensive private healthcare facilities in Belize are costly and medical procedures are still limited in meeting the needs of patients. Belize international health insurance is strongly recommended, and you are advised to ensure the policy includes cover for air ambulance services and repatriation costs, to safeguard you from extremely high medical costs.
Questions and Answers from Visitors
Can you please help me by explaining the difference between the Private health insurance and how it works exactly as oppose to the public social security scheme insurance? I don't really get the difference between the two.
Thank you for your very poignant question. I am more than happy to help you decide the best course of action for you in Belize.
As the costs of medical treatment are steadily increasing each year, mostly to support new techniques and research, more and more countries are pushing towards a nationalized health care system to help spread the increasing costs amongst the population, mostly by taxes. At this time, there are several countries that have completely free health care for residents, such as Canada, Denmark, and France. Others like the United States have a mix of a public and private insurance that is available to all residents.
What is most important about a “public” nationalized health care system is establishing residency in the country for which you are wanting to be treated in. Being a resident will allow you to use the public (in-network) hospitals that provide care for all of the region; including General Practitioners, specialists, dentist, surgeons, ophthalmologists, etc. When using the national “public” system you will need to stay in the network of providers that work with the government to provide care, and this can mean waiting longer for examinations and testing. There is very little coverage outside of the country.
The private sector of medical insurance is similar but gives more variety. For instance, most international insurance plans do not limit hospitals or treatment facilities, and you are welcome to seek treatment with any doctor. Essentially, international private insurance is an “all inclusive network”. A critical factor for most expats is the ability to move from country to country with the same continuous plan without having to establish residency with a lifetime renewable plan.
It is worth noting that all international private plans include medical evacuation- this will cover the cost of moving a person from a local treatment facility that may not have suitable facilities to treat the condition to a larger more adept facility, possibly in another city or country. Repatriation, which can also be included, will cover the costs to return you home for long term treatment in your home country.
In private insurance, you have a control over the plan that you choose and what level of coverage is important to you. If you prefer a fully comprehensive plan that includes dental, medications, doctor consultations, ambulance, evacuation, annual health examinations, optical, and hospitalization, you can choose from a wide variety of insurance providers that can offer these services (and support you with regional offices and translators). Or you can choose a plan that covers you for hospitalization only.
Finally, keep in mind the international private insurance market is competitive and constantly evolving to provide better levels of care. As technologies advance, insurance companies are constantly reevaluating their plans to be the best in the market. For example, some companies now cover the cost of any Cancer treatment in full with no deductible, no matter what level of coverage you have or how long you have been insured.
I hope that you will find this information relevant and helpful toward determining the best course of action for you. Would you like to see your private insurance options available to you in Belize?