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Signing up for Mexico's IMSS health coverage

Karen Blue

I finally got my IMSS (The Mexican Social Health Insurance) card today. It took about three weeks and visits to fifteen different desks in four different buildings in two different cities. I did it myself because I wanted to write an article about it, but never again. Next time, I'll pay the 500 pesos for someone to do the legwork for me. My friend Hilary and I went through the process together. She couldn't have done it alone without speaking or understanding Spanish.

To begin the process you need two passport-type photos, two copies of your passport, your FM-T, FM-3 or FM-2, two copies of your marriage license if you're a couple, and two copies of a recent utility bill in your name to prove you live here.

Oops, I didn't count those two preparatory steps in our 15 stops. Let's call it 17, then.

We showed up at the offices on Niños Héroes in Chapala about 2 p.m., just before they closed. Take an immediate right when you enter the building, go up the stairs and on the second floor, head down the hall to the last door on the right. We were about third in line and while we waited, I noticed a young Mexican woman in the back of the line signal one of the two clerks who were waiting on us. The clerk took her into the back, spent about 40 minutes with her and we saw the woman tuck some bills into the hand of the clerk before she left.

However, when we got to the front of the line, the clerk asked us for our paperwork, said we'd need passport photos. We didn't know about that, so we made a trek for the photoshop, had the photos taken and returned the next morning at 9 a.m. with all papers and photos in order. Great. After keeping us waiting for about an hour she said she was too busy and asked us to come back the next morning. She'd have our stuff ready.

Having learned the mañana ways of Mexico, we agreed. The next morning, she'd apparently forgotten us, and we waited while she typed up the forms — on old Underwood manual typewriters She asked our father's and mother's names and we wrote those down. When she finished, she handed me the papers to sign. I noticed she had typed an "X" in all the "No" boxes related to medical questions. Too hard to communicate with us, I guess. Except my weight — she wanted that in kilos and my height in centimeters. That finished, she sent us to the room next door where a man reviewed the paperwork and signed it. We returned, waited in line, and then she gave us directions to the IMSS office in Guadalajara.

A few days later, we headed to the central part of Guadalajara. The office is located on Independencia #580 A Norte and is open from 8 to 2 p.m. Don't go on Saturdays — they don't do this kind of work then. Fortunately, we went on a Wednesday. To the back of the building and up the stairs we headed. At the top of the stairs is a desk marked "Contrataciones de Incorporaciones Voluntarias." We gave the women our papers (probably we have six each by this point), and she told us something was wrong with the dates. I didn't understand exactly what, but was relieved we didn't have to return to Chapala to correct them. She used White-Out and changed the dates using her manual typewriter.

Then she told me my name was wrong. Now, my name has been Karen Jean Blue for over 30 years. My passport has that name, my FM-3 has that name, my driver's license has that name. But she insisted it was wrong. My correct name, she said, is Karen Jean Espe Crane. Espe was my father's last name, but Crane is my mother's third husband's last name. Perhaps I should have given them her maiden name, but that's not what they asked for. Arguing with limited Spanish is difficult. I asked her if I died in their hospital who would ever find out that it was me? She insisted they'd know.

Hilary's situation was worse. Her name had been changed to her father's last name, her mother's last name, then Hilary, then Joan. At least it seemed worse.

When she'd finished changing all the papers, we went downstairs again and headed to the room just left of the main doors, called Entidlades Receptoras. Everything seemed to be chaos there. No line to wait in. No chairs to wait in, just people mulling around. Finally I waved my papers in front of someone who looked like she belonged there and she retreated to one of the cubbyholes and returned with two numbers for us, asking us to wait outside in the lobby. After a few minutes, they called my number and we followed a gentleman into his cubbyhole. He reviewed the papers, added our names to another list of his and then sent us back upstairs.

There, we were told to go to the Bital bank which is three blocks north and across the street on Independencia. Those are three very long blocks, but we got there and found the window to the left of the building, which was signed "IMSS." There we paid our money and got a receipt.

Back to the IMSS building we walked. Upstairs with the lady who changed our names, she asked us where the other copies were. We assured her the bank only gave us one copy. She looked frustrated. "We need two."

Of course, no public offices have copy machines, so down the street we headed in the opposite direction to a copier store where we got additional copies of our bank receipts. When we returned, we waited in line again, until she was able to stamp our copies, file hers and send us back to Chapala. Anyone counting here?

Today, Hilary and I finally had time to get back to the Chapala office. We waited in line again and the clerk reviewed our paperwork. I decided not to challenge my name, because I didn't want to go through the process again, so we followed her directions and headed to the pharmacy (which I thought she said was on the next street). We couldn't find it, so returned to the IMSS where we saw a pharmacy at the other end of the hall upstairs. We went to the window marked "Archivo Clinico" and asked for Betty. Betty looked at the ever-increasing stack of papers and said we needed an extra copy of one of the forms. "The papelería," she said in Spanish, "is about three blocks away and will copy them for you."

Still smiling, we quickly jaunted towards the papeleria and decided we might as well get an extra copy of everything for ourselves. That done, we headed back to Betty who asked us if we wanted morning or afternoon appointments. We chose mornings, which means we show up at 7:30 a.m. for an appointment. The morning doctors are available from 8 to 11 and the afternoon doctors from 2 to 4.

I thought we were finished at that point, but Hilary wanted to make sure, so we returned one more time to the original office where the clerk told us we were, indeed, finished.

Another friend of mine has strongly suggested that we find any excuse to get an appointment so we get ourselves into the computerized system. That way, if we really need medical help, they'll be able to find us.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2002 by Karen Blue © 2002
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