Key Thoughts

Moving to Reduce Medical Expenses


If I were to ask you to rate the quality of American healthcare, what rating would you give it? I’m guessing that most of us believe it to be one of the best in the world.

The truth is that America only ranks No. 31 behind countries like France (No. 1), Italy (No. 2), Singapore (No. 6) and Portugal (No. 11) according to the World Population Review.

The quality of American healthcare isn’t even the most troubling part, however, cost is!

I will be 60 years old in May. My wife and I recently stumbled across a Facebook page for expats living in Portugal and realized that an early retirement in Portugal might be a very real possibility. Besides the low cost of living, the warmer weather (especially in the south) and the easy access to the rest of Europe, the quality and cost of healthcare in Portugal is one of the main reasons we are looking at making this move.

I have heard too many stories about nest eggs being wiped out by a major illness. Right now in the United States, 67 percent of bankruptcies are because of medical bills. A great number of those are among retirees, which makes sense as they’re the ones who usually have the most issues as they age.

You shouldn’t have to live in fear of ending up destitute because you or your spouse gets really sick. Even if you recover but have to file for bankruptcy, what kind of life do you go back to when you’ve got nothing left?

And, by the way, if you think that Obamacare would help here, bankruptcies because of medical bills rose by 2 percent in the two years following its implementation. The reason is pretty simple: Basic insurance isn’t enough to cover all medical bills because medical costs are outrageous. I believe that Obamacare was well intentioned, but it isn’t the solution. A total revamping is needed.

I mentioned the “Expats to Portugal” Facebook page we joined; someone there recently posted about going to the hospital because of heart issues. They ran a battery of tests, did an EKG and kept him overnight. When he got the bill for his portion it was a total of $145 and I believe that included the ambulance ride.

Can you imagine what that would have cost here in the U.S.?

I don’t want to live my years in retirement worrying that I’ll end up on skid row because my wife or I get really sick. It’s hard enough dealing with illness; no one should have the added burden of knowing that the choices they are making for themselves or their spouse are going to result in them having nothing left.

Portugal makes it pretty easy to retire in one of its beautiful beach towns. All you really need to do is prove you have sufficient income to pay for your life over there and that you have health coverage. Once you’re living there you can purchase health insurance in Portugal that is a lot cheaper than what you’ll pay to move there.

Portugal is actively pursuing Americans to come to its sunny shores because expats help the local economy. The minimum wage in Portugal is 660 euros a month, which translates to just under $740, so every dollar spent locally makes a big difference to the area’s financial health. Expats say you can live fairly well on $1,500 per month and live really well on $2,000 to $2,500 per month.

Leaving family behind will, of course, be the most difficult part about moving overseas. We won’t be able to pop over and see our children and grandchildren whenever we want, but with living expenses so low we’d be able to come back to visit two or three times a year. We also plan on having the grandkids fly over to spend vacations with us. We want them to experience different cultures; we want them to see the slower pace of life.

My wife and I both enjoy painting, something that we just don’t seem to find the time to do right now. I want to write that book I’ve been talking about writing and I want to learn to cook good, fresh Portuguese food. We want to be able to walk down to the corner cafe and have that 80 cent cup of coffee with some pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts). We want to invite other expats and locals over for drinks and dinner, slow down and enjoy our later years without the worries we know we would have back here in the U.S.

Rob Vajko lives just north of the Key Peninsula.