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Healthcare in the US is a contentious issue. For those who have private medical insurance and comprehensive coverage, medical facilities in America are some of the best in the world. For those without insurance, healthcare in the US is mediocre and sometimes completely inaccessible.
Major traumas can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and for those who can't afford it, medical treatment is limited. Emergency services must be provided by law to everyone. However, patients can expect to pay hefty fees afterwards.
Healthcare facilities in the USA
The majority of hospitals in the US are privately owned and are typically run by either non-profit associations or boards of investors.
The standard of medical facilities in the US is excellent. Patients who can afford it will have access to some of the best medical technology. Doctors are highly trained and many of the best specialists can be found in the US.
The advantages of private healthcare in America include short waiting times for operations and specialists as well as competing medical services.
Pharmacies in the USA
Pharmacies can easily be found in US cities. They are located in drug stores, grocery stores and large department stores, and are often attached to hospitals and medical clinics.
Expats will be able to get almost all prescription medication at a pharmacy in the US. However, medication is generally expensive. It is therefore best to keep all receipts in order to claim the costs from the health insurance provider.
There are strict laws about how much prescription medicine can be brought into the US. Expats must have a prescription from a doctor to prove that any medicines being brought into the country are strictly for personal use. If regulations aren't followed, the drugs will be confiscated at customs. Customs officers are very stringent about these laws as people have been caught trying to import large quantities of prescription medication from Canada and Mexico to the US.
Health insurance in the USA
The USA doesn't require expats to have health insurance. However, it would be wise for expats moving to America to invest in the best health insurance policy they can afford or negotiate one into their contract of employment. Anyone without appropriate health insurance in the US runs the risk of paying colossal bills or alternatively getting no medical attention.
Long-term treatments are often denied to those without insurance. Dental and optical operations are often not included in general insurance and are both expensive on their own.
Expats who receive any sort of medical treatment in the US should keep all their receipts in order to make an insurance claim.
Pre-travel restrictions and vaccinations for the USA
Expats planning on settling down in the US for long periods must undergo a medical exam and will be asked to show proof that their immunisations are up to date. If requirements aren't met, the expat will have to receive the vaccinations during the medical exam. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an up-to-date list of required vaccinations for immigration.
Emergency services in the USA
Emergency medical services in the US are regulated by individual state governments and, by law, must be provided to anyone in need.
In the case of a medical emergency, dial 911. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to the location of the emergency. Paramedics in the US are highly trained and can provide an excellent level of care at the scene of an accident. Alternatively, make your way to the nearest hospital with an emergency room for immediate treatment, or head to a nearby Urgent Care clinic.
Emergency Department or Urgent Care?
Emergency Departments are staffed 24/7 with physicians and nurses trained in administering emergency care, while Urgent Care clinics are ideal for urgent but non-emergency situations. They are typically staffed with physician assistants. Urgent Care providers can do basic lab and imaging tests, such as X-rays, and provide diagnoses and offer treatment plans. Urgent Care clinics have set hours and an established list of conditions that can be treated. As a result, Urgent Care clinics are generally less expensive and have shorter wait times than Emergency Departments.
►For a more in-depth insight into health insurance in the USA read Understanding Health Insurance in the USA
"In the US, you don’t really choose: you get the healthcare that you can afford, and the health plan you have dictates which hospital(s) you can go and which doctors you can see. If you work for a large company you probably have various options to choose from in terms of health plans."
Read Italian expat Simona's interview with Expat Arrivals for more about her new life in Northern California
"The healthcare in Houston is expensive but second to none. My son was born in Methodist in Sugar Land and my PCP was based in Memorial Hermann. Houston is one of the biggest medical hubs around. If you’re sick – it’s the place you want to be."
Read more about Irish expat Las's life in Houston, Texas in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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