Rich? Poor? Perceptions of Money

We are very rich in the things that matter – family, friends, happiness, a good life, and having what we need. But, this post is about money.

We are in an interesting situation here. We are from the USA but there, we are considered poor, not poverty level but close to it. We are too poor to owe taxes. I am poor enough to have subsidized health insurance. We are poor enough to not want to admit to our meager income.

We could not live in the USA without working. To retire there would mean a large drop in our income, and we would have to give up a lot just to survive. And, even if we were willing to work longer, what if one or both of us was unable to work? We knew we needed to find an alternative and that led us here to Panama.

We live in Panama now where we have more money than many of our friends and neighbors, and probably more than a large percentage of the population. We don’t want to discuss our income because it seems like we’re too wealthy. We have enough to cover everything we need, and even some travel and other fun things.

I’ve thought about this many times and I’m actually thankful that we were forced into this move. It has been a wonderful experience beyond any expectations. If we could afford to live comfortably in the USA we probably would have missed out on all of this.

I have thought about this more recently as the deadline to sign up for Obama Care is almost upon us. I have spent most of my adult life without insurance. As an independent contractor I would have had to pay full price out of pocket and it was an impossible amount. Blue Cross actually laughed at me once when I called them for a quote (I weigh more than their height/weight charts limits – talk about a humiliating experience). Even putting me on my husband’s work policy was about equivalent to our mortgage payments. Thankfully I am healthy and have needed next to nothing over the years because a serious illness or accident would have wiped us out. But now, I have coverage for $1/month, $6250 maximum out of pocket per year (which you can run up just walking through the door in an emergency room!). I am so thankful. If I get in a jam and can make it back to the US, I can get care. Thank you Obama.

Money can’t buy happiness, but not having enough for necessities can certainly buy stress, frustration, and unhappiness.  As a home health nurse I saw plenty of that among my senior age patients. We are so lucky to be here where we have a really good life, and we also have enough money to meet our needs.

I still can hardly believe I have health insurance…

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in cost of living, expat, medical care, Miscellaneous, Panama and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Rich? Poor? Perceptions of Money

  1. thepazeras says:

    Great report Kris.
    Whom did you get the insurance through?

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    • My US address is California, so I went through Covered California. I am insured with Kaiser Permanete, an HMO. They have taken good care of my daughter so I figured why not.

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      • Thanks for your post, Kris. I work for the welfare department here in CA, so one of the things I do is get people various types of coverage via Covered CA. Glad to see another person that it helped. I think you bring up a good point about the perception of money, too. It’s not a clear cut issue of “poor” or “rich” because it’s all about perspective.

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        • You work there? I probably didn’t speak to people in your department but still, I felt like I was so well taken care of. I started the process on line, and then got a phone call from an employee who answered questions and made sure their info was correct and I had everything I needed. They followed up with letters and when I didn’t get on it in a timely manner, another phone call to see if there was anything they could do to help. From my experience I would say you CA people do very good work and take very good care of people. Thank you so much.

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          • So the Covered CA office is a State Department, and we work in conjunction with them. I work for the County welfare office in my local county, and we also sign people up for Covered CA. The difference is that Covered CA employees are not qualified/allowed to sign people up for Medi-Cal, so we do that as well.

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            • I figured you were in a different department but I appreciate the work that all of you do. I’m sure you help a lot of people in difficult circumstances, especially in your department.

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  2. nuzerel says:

    american dream is a scary nightmare most of the time :/ i have seen the truth when i cycled your country. people work hard, pay a lot and receive nothing or close to nothing from their government.

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    • Interesting you would say that. Many people here get their ideas of the US from TV and are very surprised when I tell them the reality of some of the things we deal with. It is sad that the American dream is no more for many, and what America stands for isn’t what it used to be either. I didn’t even realize the extent of it myself until I got out of the country and saw it from a different perspective.
      (for those of you reading comments, this is the cyclist from Turkey who we had the good fortune to meet a while ago)

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  3. oldsalt1942 says:

    I KNOW what you mean. We’ve discussed this before in person.

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  4. oldsalt1942 says:

    A person’s bank account is a poor measure of their wealth!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. thepazeras says:

    John wrote the first comment. We’re weighing our options now that he’s retiring at the end of Feb and we are both on his plan. We’re going to miss the Obamacare deadline so we’ll have to probably pay COBRA for a while – which will be pretty pricey. At any rate, this is a great blog entry – thanks!

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  6. Jacky says:

    Don’t thank Obama. You need to thank the U.S. taxpayers that pay for your health insurance. I do believe that all people deserve health care. I am certain that it gives you such peace of mind that if you have a serious illness you can seek medical attention in the U.S. Good health to you!

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    • Until Obama I never had the opportunity to have health insurance so I appreciate the changes he has made but yes, I understand the money comes from the taxpayers. When I was working and paying plenty in taxes myself I would have been happy to see them going to care for all the people who didn’t have health care. It seems it should be a basic right. The system still has problems but hopefully we are moving in the right direction. I have lived in fear of a serious illness for so long I still can’t quite believe that things have changed now!
      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment 🙂

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  7. Excellent post Kris. I agree!

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  8. schuttzie says:

    Wonderful post, Kris! So many people need to keep working, sadly, and many times just for insurance. Everyone should have healthcare as a basic right. Does your US coverage take care of your needs in Panama? We are very recently retired and have retirement coverage through my husband’s union but I haven’t found out where that coverage extends.

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  9. Hey, Kris! Great post! Michael and I were just discussing this yesterday as we left the CPA’s office. He didn’t have health insurance almost the whole year and we are getting a hefty fine at tax-time for him not having it. Lesson learned! We’ll get ObamaCare after I quit my job :).

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  10. Jim Maughan says:

    Is there health insurance in Panama you can get and if so is it expensive ..OBTW ..great information and insites from your blog …thanks…

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    • Thanks, glad you find the blog helpful 🙂
      There is a plan through one of the local hospitals here in David, but it is more of a discount plan, reduced fees for things. A lot of expats look for an international insurance plan. http://www.boqueteguide.com/?p=11883 This just popped up recently, and this site also has more info about insurance. It is a topic discussed on the various forums also. We have chosen to pay as we go though so I haven’t researched this topic very much myself.

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  11. Charlene says:

    This is the first time I’ve read anything positive about ObamaCare! Sooo happy to hear it:) As someone from Canada, a country in which health care is provided at NO charge from birth to death, I’ve never understood how the richest country in the world could neglect its citizens. I married an American & lived in Virginia for 2 years. My ex-husband lost his job, I was pregnant & we had no health care. Thankfully, we were able to return to Canada & I vowed I would never live in the US again because of the gross injustice of the health care system. We pay 0…NO health insurance premiums. Nor do the Nordic countries, England or France. So many of my American friends & relatives argue against socialized medicine & despite my continued attempts to dispel the myths, they see it as some form of communism! A government’s role is to protect her citizens…all of them; rich & poor. Thanks for another great post, Kris!

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    • Wow, yes, I hear what you are saying. I don’t understand it either, or the opposition to socialized medicine. People don’t realize that right now your insurance company is calling the shots. If they won’t pay for it you won’t get it no matter how much your doctor and health care providers beg and argue (I know, having done my share of begging and arguing on behalf of patients). Your insurance company is more interested in their profits, and when that conflicts with patient welfare you can guess who loses. Medicare is better in many respects, but it is drowning in paperwork and red tape which take huge resources away from patient care.
      Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving your comment. I hope we are moving in the right direction here, and can learn from the more successful systems in your country and others like it.

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      • schuttzie says:

        I agree with you both, Charlene and Kris!

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        • And I agree with all 3 of you! I don’t feel like health insurance should be a privilege. Some people don’t realize that one of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare) not only made health insurance more affordable (for some, definitely not all), but it also created an expansion of the Medi-Cal (Medicaid in most states except CA) program so that more people could be included under that form of insurance, which, at least in CA, has no co-payments and no costs out of pocket to the consumer. To me, that’s a BIG DEAL!

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      • oldsalt1942 says:

        And how are the big wigs at insurance companies able to receive multi hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual salaries? By the collection monthly premiums and then denying benefits thus, in effect, robbing people.

        One thing that’s always gotten me, too, is right wingers opposition to universal health care. They scream, “Why should MY money pay for THAT PERSON’S doctor’s bills? I have insurance, so should he/she” Never thinking for a moment that that’s what insurance is all about. YOUR premiums essentially go into a big pot and when THAT PERSON gets sick and the insurance pays for the doctor’s bills it’s YOUR premiums that are paying for it. But then, what can you expect from a bunch of mouth-breathing, booger-eating, knuckle-dragging, Fox News-addicted right-wing twatwaffles? (Some day I’ll tell you how I REALLY feel about conservatives.)

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        • Someone has no insurance and is then forced into the hospital with some emergency, and they can’t pay. The money has to come from somewhere – the taxpayers and/or hospital funds, which means they have to raise the prices on everyone else to cover this. Increased costs raises the cost of insurance. And so it goes, around and around so you end up paying for that person one way or another. If you make insurance affordable for that person, then they will be able to contribute to their care, and maybe not wait until they are an emergency room disaster (and very expensive) before they seek help.

          You can also say, who should MY money pay for THAT PERSON’S kids to go to school? Or MY money for those roads I never use, or the firemen that helped THAT PERSON who’s house was on fire. We have mandatory car insurance and no one screams about that.

          I agree, if we can take the profit motives out of health insurance it will make a big difference. Unfortunately they have a lot of money and influence so accomplishing that may be next to impossible.

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  12. Sunni Morris says:

    Kris,

    We are as you described yurselves before moving to Panama – too poor to pay taxes. However, that’s okay. We plan to downsize and pay cash for our next home so we won’t have that payment hanging over our heads. We have no other bills other than the ones you can’t ever get rid of – water, gas and electric, food, etc. We can’t afford extras but we’ve made it work so far, even with our mortgage.

    We are thinking about PT jobs because we don’t feel that old and working three days a week would help us to meet new friends after our move. This will not be too inconvenient and probably better than piddling around all day, day in and day out. With that extra income, we will probably be able to travel to visit family only and no major expensive trips, but again that’s okay. Visiting family is enough. I feel very rich even though we don’t have a lot at all. Maybe this is just easier for me because I grew up living in a sharecropper’s shack. As long as I have a roof over my head, runing water, an inside toilet, heat and A/C, internet sevice and a little food, I’m okay.

    I can’t see how you can applaud obamacare. I can’t afford the premiums, so I have no insurance at all and haven’t for a long time. We never had insurance when I was a kid and the only time I’ve ever had it as an adult was when I worked FT years ago. I guess if you can afford the premiums and don’t mind seeeing a PA for any medical needs then good for you. My husband is already on medicare and I’ll be eligible soon, so that’s all we’ll have. We’ve seen so many changes here already because of Obamacare, such as having to see the PA for things instead of a regular licensed MD. I only look for that situation to become more commonplace. I guess if we get sick in a major way, then we’ve lived long enough.

    Obama is so unqualified for the job that I’m not sure how he became president in the first place. But things happen all the time that I don’t agree with. It’s best to let it go and go on with my life, so I pay little attention to politics now. Why stress yourself out with things you can’t change?

    I’m not worried about being penalized as I think that’s probably waived for poverty level indivituals.

    We all do what we must do. I’m glad things are working out so well for you and that you’re keeping people informed with your blog.

    Good health to you and your family. I hope you never need that insurance.

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    • If you want to work in Panama be sure to research the opportunities, legalities, etc before you count on anything, and you might find the pay a lot less than you expect.

      I applaud Obamacare because I have insurance, where before if anyone would even accept me, the cost was outrageous. Are you saying your premiums would be higher with Obamacare than they were before? As for seeing a PA? Sure. That certainly beats not seeing anyone at all when you need help. I have known some excellent PA’s, and some pathetic licensed MD’s so the papers on the wall aren’t everything.

      I happen to love Obama and was beyond thrilled when he got elected.

      If you are poverty level, how is it that you have to pay so much for insurance?? We are above poverty level and mine is $1/month. Maybe it is different in different states? I am insured in California.

      Thank you, and I also hope none of us need healthcare or have health problems!

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    • One thing I can tell you is that, though our opinions differ about the Affordable Care Act, if you are below the poverty level, more than likely, you are not supposed to be purchasing health care anyways. I don’t know what state you are in, but most of them expanded the Medicaid programs to include those whose income is that low. Therefore, you may be eligible to free health insurance. Just a suggestion!

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  13. Craig McCracken says:

    Hi Kris, that’s great enjoyed the post and am happy for you both. It’s strange for me as a Canadian to hear this and read all the comments. I remember having a bad motorcycle accident, ICU 3 days hospital for weeks air ambulance and home nursing along with physio for months all with no charge. I had a private insurance plan for something else that payed me so much per day in hospital through my old union days and the person I was talking to was from Texas, she couldn’t believe I didn’t have to pay anything. Obama is not my favorite guy but it’s a good thing he did in this case. All the best Craig

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    • You are lucky you are still in one piece! I remember you telling me how you got badly hurt. It would have been even worse if your main thoughts were – how am I going to pay for all this? Every Canadian I have talked to has said they are very happy for the system you all have there.
      Nice to see you pop up, and I hope the rest of your time in Panama went well. Best wishes to you too 🙂

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  14. Laureen says:

    Great post Kris! I feel like we are in the same boat. I did save for my future in years past, but it was sucked up by medical costs, almost $1K/month for premiums alone! That was before Obamacare, and now it is about half, however, it took most of the savings to be able to pay the premiums for years and years. yes, I am grateful for the Affordable Care Act too.

    Ironically, my rare medical condition was not diagnosed until I ended up in the hospital in Guadalajara, Mexico, after years of symptoms in the USA. I am very impressed with the medical system south of the border, and am hoping for the same if we relocate to Panama. We shall see come April! Woo hoo!!!! Laureen

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    • Isnt that interesting … I was amazed reading that a Dr in Boquette actually made a house call! … in the US they are herding patients through their office visits, 12-15 per hour.

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      • In the US a doctor must produce revenue! Otherwise they can’t keep the doors open. Here, we took my husband’s mother to a doctor who spent well over an hour with her – $40, expensive because she is a specialist. (it has since gone up to $50 but still, you get all the time you need and it is spent on you, not filling out forms and papers). Doctors give out their cell phone numbers to patients. They don’t have to order every test in the world to cover their backsides, and they have time to assess people and look at the bigger picture, not just write a script for something they hope will do the job.

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    • My husband’s mother was with us for the first 6 months and visited a number or doctors. I was extremely impressed with the care she got, and things that had been bothering her for years were solved or much improved.
      $1K/month in premiums. That’s crazy! What a shame it ate up all your savings too.

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      • Anonymous says:

        The good news is that perhaps Panama might be the right place for us to land for retirement. Having decent healthcare that is affordable in a warmer climate sounds pretty darn good. Yes, it is a shame that our savings got sucked up, but I look at all the people in this country that have lost their homes and their jobs in the downturn of the economy, I count my blessings daily. I just happen to be one of those folks that could not afford health insurance, and could not afford to be without it because of a pre-existing condition. Yes, I’ve lived in Oregon for years, a ‘right to medical insurance’ state (can’t be turned down because of a pre-existing condition), but it does not mean it is affordable. The Affordable Care Act came just in time….as the savings were running dry. Thank you President Obama! The next step is single payer healthcare, but I hope to be in Panama by then.

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        • Yes indeed, glad it all worked out for you. I remember many people we met before we moved who had lost jobs, houses, savings, sometimes everything they had in the world.
          Do you think we will ever get to a single payer system? The insurance companies are so powerful I don’t know if it’s possible, but I sure hope so.

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  15. Another good post … we plan to come for a visit in December to your area … we were hoping the ACA would help us with lower payments, and agree healthcare should be for everyone. Our catastrophic care plan was dropped once ACA kicked in (which was just enough insurance to hopefully keep us from being totally wiped out if anything major happened) … we are borderline on qualifying for any subsidy, we might, or we might not, each year … our policy cost for about the same catastrophic plan more than doubled! We currently are making payments as if we will qualify for subsidies, and our payments are $450/mo … if something happens and we do not quality at the end of the year, we will have to reimburse over $700 month more – thats another $3500 … all for a plan that has a high deductible, and for healthy people, we rarely get sick. So yes, health care and other insurances are making our life in the US harder and harder, but since neither of us gets SS yet, we wouldn’t have any income there … we do own property though, but … just not sure how much we need … its hard to know WHEN would be the right time to make the move, the sooner the better, or, waiting until one of us gets SS, and not sure that would be enough.

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    • Ugh. It’s such a shame people have to pay so much, and often receive so little if they need their insurance to cover something.
      As for life here, I don’t know your situation or when would be best for you to make the move. We were going to wait until I got SS but realized we were only spinning our wheels, not really putting anything more away for later. We had enough to supplement my husband’s SS and make it for a couple years, so we moved early. I certainly haven’t regretted that for a moment!

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      • Thanks, I am older than Ian, my husband … so I will be the first to get SS, but that is still 6 long years away … by then, hopefully we can save a little more and get a better picture of the growth in that area from all the expats fleeing the economy here in search for a better life … just a little worried pricing for land etc will just skyrocket down there … always something to fret about (lol just joking 🙂

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        • It is different hoping for the years to pass and looking forward to getting older! I was so happy to turn 62 here we had to throw a party 😀
          As for land pricing I think everything is going up everywhere, and Panama uses the dollar so when things go up in the US that also tends to happen here. I think there will still be affordable places also, though maybe in more rural areas. The average Panamanian doesn’t make a lot of money so outside of areas of rich Panamanians and expats, things have to be affordable for the locals.
          I understand maybe not fretting, but being aware of options and alternatives in case you would need them. We do the same thing. Nicaragua? Ecuador? A smaller town? What if we were forced out of here by economics? It feels better having some idea what you could do next.

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