Thursday, January 7, 2010

IMSS - The "Public Option" in Mexico (Day 2)

"A Tale of Two Consulates"
If you'll recall, day one of our journey to obtain Mexican public health insurance (IMSS) revealed among other things that we needed to get copies of our birth certificates, translated into Spanish and notarized and they had to be done by our respective consulates.
In my case, this would entail a trip to the U.S. Consulate in Merida, a trip I made before and chronicled in this blog post. If you haven't read it yet, you should as it will prepare you for today's report and although it wasn't nominated for a Peabody Award, it damn well should have been.
My companion, Indra, being born in Germany, has a German birth certificate which meant we also had to locate the German Consulate in Merida. This was done with very little effort on the internet and with a check of our handy-dandy Merida street map, we were relatively certain we could find it.
So off we went this morning, first to the German Consulate. Ladies first, you know.
When we arrived near the pinpointed spot on our map we were detoured off the main street due CFE (power company) crews replacing a bad transformer. Nonetheless we parked near where we believed the consulate to be and walked to it. Here it is:

Not quite the over-the-top architecture we are accustomed to in our taxpayer funded public buildings, but we have learned to roll with the punches in the past couple of years here, so we strolled up and knocked on the door.

We were let into a small outer office/reception area where we met the very helpful Magdalena. She spoke English, Spanish and German and for all we knew, other languages as well. She registered us in her book and then Indra showed her the birth documents from 1946 Germany. Magdalena looked them over, translated them on the fly for us in English to confirm that they were indeed birth documents and apologized that she could do nothing today due to the power outage going on from the soon to be replaced broken transformer. She noted the fragility of the documents which bear a close resemblance in consistency to the Dead Sea Scrolls and provided Indra with a web address where she can obtain new, updated versions. By the way the new versions from Germany already come translated into five languages including Spanish. Here's Magdalena explaining all of this to Indra...

She called the Consul out from the rear office (I think these were the only offices in the building) and he confirmed he could do the notarization from Xerox copies so Indra could keep the originals. She even offered to translate mine, but I decided that since IMSS wanted it from my country's consulate I'd stick to the rules. We will go back next Monday or Tuesday to pick Indra's up.
At this time we were less than an hour away from my appointment at the U.S. Consulate per my appointed time. Yes, you need to have an appointment which is done online here.
I had popped on to make my appointment Tuesday and the next available time was for today (Thursday) at 12:00 noon. In fact it was the only time available today.
We parked across the street and as we approached I thought it was a good time to get what we in the news media are trained to get: an Establishing Shot.

Unlike the German Consulate, ours comes with anti-crash barriers. As soon as I took this picture, the two armed Yucatan State Police standing in front started yelling and gesticulating wildly something about picture taking of this hallowed edifice not being allowed.

I briefly figured since I was on a public street, I could do what I damn well wanted. But on second thought I realized that I could be arrested for spying and I doubted that Bill Clinton would commandeer a plane to fly down and save my ass like he did for those two young women in North Korea. So I pocketed my camera and as we passed by my cheerful "Buenos Dias" was met with icy stares.
Up we went to the bulletproof booth to announce ourselves and our purpose for being there. Of course the jack-booted, beret-wearing rent-a-cop that U.S. taxpayers employ to check everyone in, spoke no English. This is at the U.S. Consulate! He had to make a call to get another rent-a-cop to come out who spoke a little English. Back in the day, before our armed forces were sent out to fight a couple of wars in the Middle East, these duties were performed by U.S. Marines (Semper-Fi) who, no doubt, enjoyed a little break in the action.
After checking our passports, we were admitted to the screening area. Here we were relieved of the following items before going through the metal detector:
A pack of cigarettes
A lighter
My camera (no photos allowed inside either - State secrets)
Both our sets of car keys
All loose change
A bottle of hand sanitizer (I guess the swine flu media panic had not permeated security either)
A bottle of mosquito repellent
Fortunately we were not asked to remove our underwear.
Then our bags were put through the scanner, our passports checked one more time, and then we were passed through the metal detector. Since I could not take a photo of this, you'll have to use your imagination. I imagine that if given the chance, they may resort to body imaging like this:

This was the first of three checkpoints needed to pass before entering the hallowed area for my "appointment". We cleared the other two without any problems and when we entered the main area we were given a number: 2004. We didn't have to wait as there were, no kidding, in a room with at least 50 chairs and 8 help windows, no other people waiting. I mean it was, except for one of the rent-a-cops and Indra and me, deserted. Said rent-a-cop directed us to the two windows reserved for Americans and we rang the buzzer. Soon a gentleman appeared behind the double-paned bulletproof glass and, through a microphone that continuously shorted out, asked us what we needed. I needed an "appointment" for this?
I explained that the folks over at IMSS told we needed my birth certificate translated and notarized by the U.S. Consulate in order to apply for benefits. The nice man then informed us that, yes, they could notarize such a document for $30.00 USD, but the translation was not done there. For that, I would have to hire a government certified Mexican translator to do the job. Then he/she would bring it over to the consulate, have it notarized, and then return it to me.
He then provided me with a list of certified translators in Merida. This list carries the following proviso:
"The U.S. Consulate Merida assumes no responsibility of liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of service provided by, the following persons or firms. Inclusion on this list is in no way an endorsement by the Department of State or the U.S. Consulate."
Well, that's a confidence booster.
I told him about what Alejandro at IMSS had said about having it translated by the consulate and the man behind the bulletproof glass replied that they had probably just seen the official consulate seal on the translated document and assumed the translation was done there. "We're going to have to straighten them out on this the next time we see them", came the dubious promise from the man behind the bulletproof glass.
We exited with the list, collected our contraband and headed home.
Indra and the Germans definitely came out on top today. I'll let you know what happens next.

More later,


mcm said...

Very informative blog -- thanks.

FYI -- the German consul is actually an "honorary" consul -- the "consulate" is his house.
Also, as long as I've lived in Merida, the guards at the US consulate have been Mexican federal employees, not "rent-a-cops". At least since 1997, no US marines in sight.
It is too bad that security has been ratcheted up so much...this is a fairly recent phenomenon, with the move of the US consulate to its new quarters. Likewise, appointments weren't needed for consular services until recently. Sigh.
Interestingly, on the IMSS Yucatan website, it notes in the list of documents required that for foreigners, FM-3 or FM-2, rather than birth certificate.
Here's the link:

Unfortunately, although as you note, the Mexican constitution advocates universal health care, Mexico does NOT have universal health care coverage. IMSS actually does not cover all Mexicans. It is coverage for salaried workers whose patrons subscribe, but many others lack coverage. State workers are covered through other programs (ISSSTE), etc. The relatively new (since 2001) program Seguro Popular covers some of these uninsured people, but benefits are less, and the cost is still prohibitive for many.
Something to think about when using IMSS benefits.

Larry said...

Great information. As I noted, there is a lot of outdated information, even on the IMSS site. Believe me, these guards were private security backed by two State Police officers. The birth certificate is require plus an FM2 or FM3.