Two more insurance companies are offering binational health plans, bringing the region's total to five. Just a few years ago, no such plan existed here. But today, insurance companies say market demand is such that all of these plans, which allow employees to go to the doctor in Mexico, can co-exist. Cypress-based PacifiCare announced this month it will partner with Mexican company SIMNSA to offer its members access to SIMNSA's network of 200 doctors in Baja California, Mexico. It was perhaps SIMNSA's entrance to the market in 2000 as the first cross-border health maintenance organization, or HMO, and rapid enrollment of its more than 17,000 members, that called attention to a nearly untouched market — the working uninsured.
San Diego County has 600,000 uninsured people, according to the San Diego County Medical Society. SIMNSA, which stands for Sistemas Medicos Nacionales, S.A. de C.V., is the only plan based in Mexico that has received a permit to market its services in California. It is because of this restriction that only Mexican nationals qualify for coverage under SIMNSA's plan. Those who sign up to be covered at SIMNSA's clinics through PacifiCare must also be Mexican nationals.
J. Guadalupe Gonzalez lives and works in California, but when he wants to see his doctor he heads to Mexico. Gonzalez's primary doctor is in Tijuana. The office is close to where his family lives, the physician speaks his language and a visit costs less than it would in California. Plus, his company's health insurance pays for it.
Thousands of Latinos who live near the border are taking advantage of a benefit increasingly offered by their U.S. employers: cheaper healthcare in Mexico. About 160,000 California workers -- farm laborers as well as working-class Latinos employed at hotels, casinos, restaurants and local governments in San Diego and Imperial counties -- are getting their annual checkups and having surgeries through health networks south of the border, insurers say.