When a company gets behind on paying the social security tax for its employees, government collectors sometimes come and drape yellow tape around the exits and entrances. The tape stays until the debt is paid.
That even happened to some professional soccer teams when inspectors for the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social sealed the stadium entrances and applied yellow tape.
If the Caja were consistent, Casa Presidencial and the other main government agencies would be decked out in yellow tape. The Caja’s employee union estimated Tuesday that the central government is behind 1 trillion colons or about $2 billion.
The union, the Unión Nacional de Empleados de la Caja y la Seguridad Social, said the institution is in crisis. This is the national health care system that runs the hospitals and local clinics as well as provides payments for disabilities. Expats who have residency in Costa Rica are supposed to affiliate with the Caja be they rentistas, pensionados or residentes permanentes.
The union also said that suppliers are reluctant to front the Caja any more goods, and some of these goods and services are indispensable, such as petroleum gas, chemicals, syringes, rental of buildings and collection of dangerous medical waste.
There also are shortages of vital medicines, such as blood pressure medication, said the union.
Although the union did not mention it, there are many cases of employees owed substantial sums in back pay. Employees and even physicians are planning a general strike starting July 19.
A chamber that represents employers also issued a statement on the Caja Tuesday and said that there should be no increase in the percentage businesses have to pay until the agency straightens up its own house. The chamber, the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, said that the Caja spends fully 70 percent of its budget on salaries.
Employees pay 9 percent of their salary for various social charges, including hospital care and pensions. Employers pay 14 percent of the payroll amount to the Caja, but the agency also collects 9 percent more for other institutions. So the payments total 31 percent of the gross salaries. The employer percentages may vary slightly depending on the size of the company.
The employer chamber attributed the problems with the Caja to faulty management. Of course, there is corruption, too. This is the agency that invested $39 million into equipment that doctors said was not needed. Former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier has been convicted of being the mastermind of a $9 million bribe that trickled down to executives of the Caja from that deal. His conviction is under appeal.
The employer chamber called upon the central government to pay its debt to the Caja and said that 48 percent of the amount is owed by the Ministerio de Salud. The chamber characterized the Caja favorably as a pillar of democracy.
Of course the central government is struggling with its budget in all areas and is unlikely to come up with the full amount. The Caja is predicting a $184 million deficit this year and is in negotiations with the central government to at least get some money to balance its budget.
A recent internal audit disclosed how precarious is the financing of the Caja. Most Costa Ricans rely on its medical services which are mostly free. There are many complaints about long lines, long waits and impersonal services.
Expats, unless they are employed here, join the Caja as independent individuals in much the same way that self-employed Costa Ricans do. The Association of Residents of Costa Rica also has a plan for its members. The hospitals also provide care to any tourists who are in need of emergency services while they are here. Sometimes the Caja is reimbursed by a foreign insurance company for these services, but not always.
Some expats hold three types of medical insurance: the Caja, U.S. Medicare or Tri-Care and a separate policy from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.