Some expats feel blindsided by Caja rate increase

Some expats are unhappy because the fees they pay to the government for health insurance just went up by as much as 43 percent in some cases.

The insurance with the Caja Costarricensee de Seguro Social is mandatory for foreign legal residents in Costa Rica. Most pay out of their own pockets as asegurados voluntarios. Some pay as trabajadores independientes. Unaffected are those expats who work and contribute to the Caja along with their employer.

Expats who are pensionados or rentistas usually opt for the asegurado voluntario status in which the monthly premium or fee is based on income.

The Board of Directors at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social decided last month to increase the rates for the independent workers and volunteer enrollees.

This was done because those who are self-employed or volunteer enrollees were paying less than those who worked under an employer, so the change makes the rates more fair, said a Caja spokesperson Thursday.

“The institution seeks to close the gap that exists between the different types of policyholders and represents the first step toward achieving the goal that all workers contribute the same rate,” said Picado Gustavo Chacón, financial manager of the Caja, as quoted by the Caja at the time the increase was approved and again Thursday by the spokesperson.
The new rate structure now has five levels instead of the previous seven. Premiums are collected based on a minimum monthly salary of 131,760 colons, about $264. The previous base was 116,500 colons or about $233. Even if an independent worker earns less than the minimum, the premium still is computed from that amount. The average increase is supposed to be about 12 percent, said the Caja.

Some expats are reporting increases of between 10 and 20 percent when they visited the Caja to make their monthly payments. The action by the Caja board was not published widely, although there was one news story in La Nación, the Spanish-language daily, in early October.

Some expats complained that they were being soaked just to retain their residency because they never expected to use the Caja medical or hospital services.
Many U.S. expats here subscribe to their country’s Medicare program that also requires monthly premiums. But Medicare services are not available outside the United States. Others carry private medical insurance or a policy issued by the government Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Ryan Piercy of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica said that he has heard of people having increases as high as 43 percent.

However, based on what he had seen, some persons were paying lower than they should, he said.

“It depends on what they were paying and for how long,” he said, adding: “I’ve seen people paying as low as 5 percent.”

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