Saturday, February 06, 2016

moving to mexico -- the postal system

The Mexican postal service has long been the Rodney Dangerfield on the list of things expatriates dislike most about the country.

Before I moved here, every book I read, and every person with whom I raised the question, informed me the postal service here was to be avoided more assiduously than drinking the tap water. Anecdotes of damaged packages, lost checks, and glacial delivery times convinced me I would be foolish to rely on the Mexican system.

I have now come to suspect those rumors were invented, or at least inflamed, by a cottage industry that sprang up to assuage the fears of expatriates. Wherever expatriates congregate, there is usually a mail service that will forward mail from a northern address to a local office -- for a fee.

And that fee is usually exorbitant. But, if you have been sucked into the myth that your mail will end up like the Lindbergh baby, you will pay almost any ransom.

I was one of those people. The ransom-payers, that is, not the extortionists.  When I moved here, my mail came to me at in an office in Manzanillo. Each week, I would drive two hours primarily to pick up my mail -- and to leave a large wad of pesos at the office for the pleasure of receiving political fund-raising solicitations and thick catalogs of continuing legal education courses that I was never going to take.

One day I decided enough was enough. In lieu of a Texas address, I rented a postal box in San Patricio. I have never looked back.

All of my letters sent show up where they should.  Just as letters sent to me show up.  Several of my Amazon orders have been reliably delivered through the Mexican mail.

Then there is timeliness. 

A year ago, my mail was taking about 10 days to be delivered at an American address, and just over two weeks for the return correspondence to show up in my Mexican postal box. (I know that because I had a regular correspondent in Nevada who had no way to communicate with me other than by letter.)

For some reason, that very acceptable delivery time has shifted drastically. The last couple of weeks I received two Christmas cards -- from my cousin Marsha in Oregon, and from friends (Rick and Geoff) in Washington -- and a birthday card from a close grade school friend (Colette). (Thanks for the cards, pals.)

To me, none of them are late. After all, to me every day is Christmas and my birthday. (So far, I have avoided the heresy of thinking Christmas is my birthday.) It is always pleasant to receive greeting cards.

But not all is kisses and roses between the local post office and Mexpatriate. Because of my affiliation with the American military, I am reimbursed for 75% of my out-of-country medical expenses, less a deductible.

The Tri-Care checks have taken an inordinate amount of time to arrive. Three checks arrived in the last week with transit times of between four and two months. All of my other mail arrives far faster than that.

Thanks to an observant and helpful reader, I now have joined modern times by having the checks directly deposited to my checking account -- something I started with my other government payments in the 1970s.

Speaking of health care reimbursement, I had a mild shock when my most recent Social Security check was electronically deposited in my checking account.  It appeared to be $200 short of the usual amount.

It was. The premium for Medicare had jumped over 100% from $145 to $320.

I remember reading something about the increase -- that there was some sort of inexplicable link between the failure to award a cost-of-living increase causing the increase in the Medicare premium. A friend told me it was part of Obamacare. But he also believes that Obamacare causes the Zika virus. I simply don't know.

You may ask why I am paying the Medicare premium when I cannot be reimbursed by Medicare for my Mexican medical bills. The answer is simple.

Because I am now eligible for Medicare, Tri-Care will not continue my coverage unless I have Medicare as my primary insurer. My bills are submitted first to Medicare -- and, of course, they are refused. Tri-Care then pays the appropriate reimbursement. For anyone who thinks a single-payer system would be more efficient than private health care, I can only offer my own Kafkaesque experience.

The Medicare premium increase has caused me to start thinking about what I am getting for my payment of almost $4,000 (US) each year. Mexican medical costs are not very expensive.

My biggest medical expense last year was my week-long hospital stay that cost me about $4,000. Because I was reimbursed for only 75% of my bill (less a sizable deductible) by Tri-Care, I would have been ahead by insuring my own expenses, and not using Medicare and Tri-Care, at all.

Of course, it has been handy to have both systems during my recent medical treatments in Oregon and Washington. But there is a remedy for that: stop heading north.

Who knows? Maybe the American government will send me a letter dis-inviting me from any further visits up north.

If so, they will need to give me enough time to receive it. There is that little delivery time glitch in our postal system.

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