Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Perks Of Free Healthcare In Argentina

Free healthcare is one of the perks of moving to Argentina. Despite a handful of locals who feel that healthcare should be limited to Argentine citizens or foreigners who are Argentine residents, free healthcare is available to anyone regardless of what country you're from and I doubt that this is going to change anytime soon.
Should we charge medical expenses to foreigners who are non-residents? 1) Yes, because they are not residents. 2) Free medical care should be limited to emergencies only 3) No, because it would violate human rights.

However, there's been a few changes in the process since I last wrote about the free healthcare process a few years ago so here they are. Keep in mind that I am currently in the province of Cordoba and my particular experience is in the public hospital called "Hospital Nacional De Clinicas".

For starters, you can't make an appointment at the "centro de turnos" anytime you want to anymore unless you have healthcare benefits (obra social). So foreigners and locals living in Cordoba without insurance have to go at the crack of dawn to the hospital and wait two or three hours to get a number to schedule an appointment. They only give out 70 per day hence the reason why you have to go so early ... like 5 am.
A few years ago you had to pay an outpatient fee called a "bono" which was super affordable anyway. Now you no longer have to pay a dime. In fact, there are signs posted throughout the hospital reminding patients that no area in the hospital is allowed to charge patients under any circumstances, which might explain why the dental services have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Once you have your own doctor, they'll order some blood work which you have to get done in the lab section of the hospital. You'll need to schedule an appointment for this as well at the "centro de turnos". The blood work takes about a week and a half depending on what you're being treated for. When the results come back they are sent to your doctor. You'll just need to schedule an appointment to see them and get the results.

Free Vaccinations
If you want to get flu shots or any other form of vaccination you can report to the "vacunatorio". Their hours of operation are from around 8 am to noon. They may or may not have the shots your doctor prescribed. So you may end up having to visit other public hospitals. Don't worry! The vaccines are free! 

If you have an emergency and you can't wait, there is an emergency room (Sala de Urgencia) available and you can go anytime 24 hours a day.

A Spanish Speaking Hospital
It's a safe bet that they don't have English-speaking staff in the hospital, though you may find a handful of people who can speak English. Your safest best is to bring a native Argentine with you (friend, spouse, neighbor) if you don't speak any kind of Spanish.

Prescription Medicine
Prescription medications are not free however. Whatever you have to get at the local pharmacy may cost you heavily. For example, my husband started buying Soriatane to treat his skin condition, which three years ago cost about $250 Argentine pesos ($17.81 USD). As of March 2016, that medicine now costs $740 Argentine pesos ($52.72 USD). Yeah! It was a major price hike, especially if you're living solely on the Argentine economy, which has been facing some serious declines, particularly in the last couple of months. I've spoken to a lot of locals who have struggled to buy their medication even with healthcare benefits (obra social). Imported medications are usually the most expensive and they don't always have a generic brand that is more affordable.

In cases where patients suffer from more serious health issues like diabetes, cancer or AIDS, the government will pay for the medicine required if you cannot afford it. However, there's a lengthy amount of paper work and wait time. So keep that in mind if your sole intention is to come here to treat something serious. You can always bring USD and lots of it ... just in case.

Dental Care
Some people have asked me to write about the dental healthcare coverage. So as I've said before ... or wrote ... whatever ... you know what I mean, the Hospital Nacional De Clinicas in Cordoba does not offer free dental service. However, you can look around for a good dentist and the cost is still pretty manageable and I say this having recently undergone a full cleaning which cost $400 Argentine pesos ($28.50 USD),  an oh-so painful wisdom tooth extraction for $800 Argentine pesos ($57.00 USD) and 10 cavity fillings for $2,800 Argentine pesos ($199.49 USD). Yes! I had 10 cavities! Sue me for eating a lot of sweet stuff! Of course these prices vary from one healthcare professional (and province) to another.

Conclusion
Like any other country, Argentina has its pros and its cons but free healthcare is something that not may countries offer to locals and foreigners. It's a blessing that I urge everyone to consider taking advantage of because there's nothing more important than our health. Plus, if those few xenophobic malcontents become a massive chorus in the future and influence the government to charge foreigners, the concept of free healthcare could go up in smoke!

Take a look at the original post I wrote back in 2013 to compare how things have changed in the free healthcare system in Argentina.

Free Healthcare in Argentina – The Pros And Cons Of Using A Public Hospital
http://gayamericaninargentina.blogspot.com/2013/04/public-hospitals-in-argentina-and-free.html

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Annual International Food Festival In Altagracia

Every year around the end of January through the first week of February, the people of Cordoba and its neighboring cities can look forward to the Annual Food Festival (Encuentro Anual De Colectividades).
It's held in Altagracia, a city on the outskirts of Cordoba. There are kiosks selling food from a variety of countries from around the world like Iraq, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Uruguay, Italy, Armenia and South Africa.
 
The food is delicious but you'll need a lot of Argentine pesos to enjoy it. The cost of each item or meal varies from 40 Argentine pesos ($2.79 USD) to 166 Argentine pesos ($11.56 USD).
Of course not every food item was a clear winner. I bought a cheesecake which was frozen solid. I could have broken a car window with it. In fairness, the lady did warn me that she had to freeze the cheesecake to keep it from going bad. I ended up breaking 4 plastic spoons trying to dig into it. In the end, the frustration soured the taste.
One of my friends ordered a paella from the 'Spain' booth and wasn't too happy with the taste of it or the fact that the rice had more chicken in it than actual seafood, which a paella apparently needs.
The desserts however were real good, particularly those from Poland and Germany. They offered some of the softest cakes ever. It was far better than the dry, bland cakes that most local supermarkets offer.
Musical guests were also in attendance throughout the festival but they weren't anyone I would recognize. My knowledge of Latino performers are limited to Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias (neither of which were present). Beyond that, I know nothing.
All in all, I would totally recommend the festival if you're interested in sampling some delicious international food, listen to good music, do a little shopping, spend quality time with your friends and family and drink the night away.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Argentina Now Charges For Plastic Bags To Save The Environment

On October 2015, supermarkets across Argentina started charging 40 cents per plastic bag to encourage the Argentine people to start using those eco-friendly reusable bags. Some mom and pop shops have even stopped providing plastic bags altogether and it has some people hopping mad!

While the concept certainly seems like a noble effort to save the environment, this change has had a few setbacks.

For starters, the law states that supermarkets can't charge for plastic bags and people have been voicing their outrage on social media. Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped supermarkets like Libertad, Disco, VEA, Super Mami or Walmart from continuing to charge their customers for bags. Also, as upset as customers are they are continuing to buy plastic bags, which seems to defeat the policy's intended purpose. 
Some claim that this is a cheap tactic from supermarket chains to milk even more money from customers. Now honestly, I crap more expensive things than a 40 cent bag so I don't mind paying a little extra to get 5 or 6 bags to put my groceries in. However, since the cost of a lot of supermarket items continue to rise like crazy despite the change in government, it's clear that it will continue to become an issue with some of the locals.

So why don't I jump on the eco-friendly train and buy reusable grocery bags? It's simple. I use plastic bags to throw my trash out on a daily basis. Now you're probably asking yourself, "Why don't I just buy a large black bag and throw it out on garbage day (which is everyday here except for Saturdays)?"
In a lot of neighborhoods, black bags are an issue because some assume that black bags contain something valuable. So they'll rip it apart with a knife or bare hands and then leave the homeowner to do all the clean up. This has happened to me and several of my neighbors on many occasions.

Buying a garbage can is also out of the question. There are shady people lurking and sometimes they can be that next door neighbor that waves at you every time they see you. You can certainly buy yourself a trash can but it will likely vanish the moment you turn your back on it.
So now when I go to the supermarket I get the option to buy a green or black plastic grocery bag. The green is for dry trash like bread crumbs, paper, plastic bottles and anything else that's not mushy or wet. The black is for the soggy stuff like leftover spaghetti or stew that we simply don't feel like keeping in the fridge. Both bags are made with biodegradable material and trust me it shows and feels like they are because the material is SO CHEAP!

I honestly never expected this policy of charging for plastic bags to last beyond Christmas let alone the end of January 2016. At this time it remains unclear whether the government will step up to the plate and stop these supermarket chains from charging for shopping bags.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Argentina Bids Farewell To The Kirchnerista Movement And Welcomes Change In Macri

Cristina Kirchner
The Kirchnerista/Peronista came to an end when Argentinians voted for Mauricio Macri who represents the The Republican Proposal/Cambiemos (Let's Change) Movement on November 22nd, 2015. 
Mauricio Macri
Back in October, there was a vote that was meant to narrow down the presidential candidates to just two. As I reported in a previous post, the voting system is fairly simple. 





It involves a sheet of paper with the face and name of the candidate along with the names of all the elected officials that they represent. In other words, one vote counts for all offices in that party. The ballot was then sealed in an envelope and placed in a box by the edge of the table where voters must first sign in before going into a private room to vote.

It came down to Daniel Scioli who represents the same party as the current Argentine president, Cristina Kirchner and Mauricio Macri who represents a completely different ideology. The people spoke and Scioli lost. However, Cristina Kirchner has mentioned that she would run for president in 2019. If she succeeds, this would be her 3rd term, which is a concept I found ironic since in the States a president can only serve a maximum of two terms.  


I'm not going to get into the political stuff of who is better or who is worse because I honestly don't know. I do know that when Macri takes office on December 10th, things will change. Whether it's for the best or the worst remains to be seen. While some of his agendas seem promising, such as allowing import and export to once again flow freely in Argentina, research suggests that he was involved in the financial crisis that struck Argentina in 2001-2002. So … am I little worried? Hell yeah.

Allegations of voting fraud (like the Gore/Bush voting scandal) were made but a recount of the voting ballots on November 30th determined that Macri was indeed the winner. 


For Argentine citizens, voting is not an option. Having dual citizenship allowed me the privilege of adding my voice to the chorus of millions that wanted what was best for this country. 


Now there's only one thing left to do and that is to concentrate on the elections back home for 2016. Being thousands of miles away and with a budget too limited to return even for a visit means that I have to vote as an absentee voter. 

So how do I do this? 

I went to this site: 
www.votefromabroad.org 

It was super easy. I just had to add the last address that I lived in when I was in the U.S., my social security number and answer some generic questions such as whether I was interested in voting for every state election or just the major ones like the presidential election. After that, I just had to print the form out, sign it and send it to the voting district back home.  

Since the mail in Argentina is not very reliable when sending or receiving things abroad, I have no way of knowing whether they will receive it. Since I'm not the kind of person to leave things to chance I will probably find an expat that is traveling home and have them send the application through the U.S. postal service. 

Then it's just a matter of getting my ballot in the mail when the time comes (and hope it actually gets to me) so I can vote. I will tell you (and I better not get any nasty comments for this) that I am a Democrat so it's a safe bet I won't be voting for Donald Trump. But even if I'd been a Republican I wouldn't have done it either. 

There are some people back home in the States and even some expats that I've met that don't vote for their own personal reasons (and I'm not bashing anyone so don't start hating me). I'll just end this entry by saying that voting for change in one country is wonderful but to get to vote for two countries is beyond a right or a privilege … it is an honor. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Views On Suicide And The Tower Of Death In Cordoba

Earlier this year, a friend invited me to a lecture on suicide at the National University of Cordoba (UNC). I learned some interesting facts, some of which surprised the hell out of me.

The professor identified herself as a suicidologist, a profession within the psychiatric field that I never even knew existed and seeing that this lecture was held at the UNC I was ready to call B.S. to anything she was saying. But at the incessant request of a friend I decided to stay.

I learned that health insurance in Argentina will cover injuries related to suicide attempts but life insurance won't. So anyone planning on offing themselves in the hopes of leaving their family with a large sum of life insurance money is out of luck.


The Highest Suicide Rates In The Country
Buenos Aires has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. I can only assume that this is the result of the high level of stress of living in a big city. As you may know from my previous blog entries, Buenos Aires, particularly the CABA region is very Manhattanish and trust me. Manhattan was beautiful but super stressful. I imagine that life in B.A. is equally stressful.

American Expats in Buenos Aires Day 1 - The Arrival
http://goo.gl/QSflfp


American Expats in Buenos Aires Day 2 - The Search for KFC and Wendy's
http://goo.gl/H4U23b


American Expats in Buenos Aires Day 3 and 4 – Multicultural Mix and Racism
http://goo.gl/btniDC


Return to Buenos Aires The search For Magic Donuts And The Ministry Of Education
http://goo.gl/nhN0Ll

The province of Jujuy also has a high suicide rate among teens and young adults versus Cordoba, which according to the psychologist (clearing throat) excuse me ... suicidologist, is caused by the level of extreme poverty.

Grief Counseling For The Family
I learned that there is a group called "Padres Del Dolor" which loosely translates as "Parents Of Grief/Pain". She claimed that the organization is only available in Buenos Aires and not in Cordoba but when I went online I found a group on Facebook that is located in Cordoba. So under the guise of a grieving parent who just lost her daughter and needed a support group to speak to, I reached out to them via e-mail. They never replied.

Suicide Hotline
There are suicide hotlines available. For the one in Cordoba you simply dial 135. You can also email them at asistenciaalsuicidacba@hotmail.com. The hotline has been around since 1982. The suicidologist was a part of it for quite some time but eventually left because she did not agree with their anonymity rule. She explained that not being allowed to get the caller's name and number or having the cops trace the call severely compromises the potential suicide victim. Whereas if they could trace the call they could send someone to pick the caller up and send them to a health care facility for short term treatment. She also disagreed with the anonymity rule because there was no way for the therapist on the other line to do a follow up. Yes! You might have prevented them from killing themselves at that moment but wouldn't it be great if you could call back and check on them to make sure they don't have a relapse? In this instance, I agree with her.

On the other hand, would you really trust calling a hotline that will likely have you locked up in a psych ward for admitting that you are suicidal? Probably not.


Torre Angela
It was once the tallest building in the province of Cordoba, but eventually another building took the title. But at the time it seemed like the obvious choice for people contemplating suicide to go to. The roof was accessible to anyone and they would jump.
The suicidologist mentioned that when her patients would tell her they were going to commit suicide by jumping off of Torre Angela, she would used reverse psychology and tell them to go ahead and do it but to consider the major traffic jam they would cause when their bodies hit the street. If they landed on a car, they would likely damage it and they should consider that. She claims that this worked into knocking some sense into her patients. But I wouldn't personally book a therapy session with Ms. Congeniality here.
After a series of tragic suicides, access to the roof of Torre Angela was no longer available to just anyone.

Final Observations
My observation of the questions being asked as well as the comments made by the attendees suggests that the majority of the people there believed that suicide is a weakness and that they weren't victims. Over the last three years I've noticed that people have a similar opinion about victims of bullying and abuse.

Argentina's Stance on Bullying
http://goo.gl/vLqEcm

It seems that placing the blame on the victim and not the aggressor is preferable and convenient for certain people. Whether this mentality will change down the line remains to be seen.