Understanding Healthcare in Brazil

By Pedro Souza
December 27th, 2016

If you are planning on living in Brazil, it is essential that you understand how the healthcare system works here. The country offers a free Unified Health System funded by the government and known locally as SUS (Sistema Ùnico de Saúde). Hospitals that are covered by this system are known as municipal hospitals. Both Brazilians and foreigners can get access to the services offered by these hospitals by showing an ID and a SUS card (Cartão SUS), which is issued by all Brazilian municipal offices, health centers, hospitals and clinics. You can also order one online at this link.

While the healthcare offered by SUS is decent, it has its share of problems, and for many foreigners it will not be able to meet their standards. Municipal hospitals are good at dealing with emergencies, but when it comes to nursing care, they leave a lot to be desired. This is particularly true in areas away from urban centers. They are also often crowded, which means that you might have to deal with long waits.

If you don’t wish to make use of the healthcare offered by the government, you can opt for the private sector. If you intend to do this, you can choose between a health plan (plano de saúde) or health insurance (seguro de saúde). A health plan is restricted to a certain geographic region, while health insurances usually cover medical care in the whole country. Health plans are usually more expensive, but unlike health insurance it covers all of your costs. Another difference is that health insurance also offers more choices of doctors.

In order to apply for either of these forms of insurance you need to have your passport, a local ID and a CPF, which is a taxpayer registry number. If you attempt to be treated at a private hospital without being insured, they might ask you to make a large deposit before being treated. If you are insured however, the hospital will usually contact your insurance company, which will then pay it directly. If your bill is higher than your health plan can cover, you have to pay the balance before being discharged by the hospital.

Before getting a health insurance, you should check its terms and conditions, which can vary a lot. Some companies for example, might require you to pay the hospital directly and then obtain reimbursement from them. Others do not cover chronic or pre-existing medical conditions. By being aware of the policies of the company from which you plan to buy insurance, you might avoid unpleasant surprises.

Another thing you should be aware of is that the Ministry of Social Welfare (Ministério da Previdência Social) has benefits available for foreigners as well. These benefits include maternity benefit, sickness or injury benefit, invalidity benefit, unemployment benefit and survivor benefit. In order to qualify for the benefits, you need make a certain number of contributions that the ministry requires, as well as having a valid work permit.

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