SUS - Healthcare

Brazil is quite unique in that it has got a public health care system providing services to the entire population. There are alternatives offered by the private initiative and how do foreigners gain access to healthcare in Brazil?

SUS – Sistema Único de Saúde

The Brazilian health care system, also known as SUS, was established in 1988 in order to guarantee access to health care to the entire population. Previously, access to health care was restricted to those who contributed to the social security. SUS maintains all public hospitals, laboratories and health centres. 

Like a lot of countries that offer public healthcare in theory, the public health system works very well, but reality it is far from being ideal.

Public hospitals suffer from bed shortages and inpatients can be found in the corridors. There is also a shortage of medication and the number of doctors is below target figures. 

Many municipalities simply do not offer medical specialties like endocrinologist or cardiologist and a simple appointment with a GP can take up to months to materialise. As hospitals are not available in all municipalities, the waiting list for surgery done take up to two years. 

As there are such varying differences between the Brazilian states in terms of health care development, some surgeries can only be done in sophisticated medical centres like Hospital das Clínicas, in São Paulo. Every year many people come from all Brazilian states expecting to be served by Hospital das Clínicas and its institutes, such as the Heart Institute and the Cancer Institute. 

On the other hand, any Brazilian citizen can go to a public hospital and can expect to receive treatment. When going to the hospital, the patient must provide his RG (Brazilian identification card) along with the SUS card. 

Private Healthcare

In relation to some of the issues raised for the SUS health system many Brazilians acquire a private health care plan. In theory, they are supposed to be faster than SUS and should provide a much better qualified service for its patients. In a lot of cases the private hospitals are in the same poor condition as the public ones.

There are several health care providers operating in Brazil. Here are some of the major ones, listed from most affordable to most expensive:

  • Itálica
  • GreenLine
  • Santamália
  • Medial
  • Transmontano
  • São Cristóvão
  • Dix Saúde
  • Unimed
  • Amil
  • Golden Cross
  • Intermédica

Prices vary according to the type of healthcare plan and the individual’s age. These are the ranges for individual plans, being Itálica the cheapest one and Intermédica the most expensive. 

  • 0 to 18 years old: from BRL 41,80 to BRL 141, 22 
  • 19 to 23 years old: from BRL 50,16 to 190,65
  • 24 to 28 years old: from BRL 51,02 to BRL 223,00
  • 29 to 33 years old: from 58,60 to BRL 234,00
  • 44 to 48 years old: from BRL 149,07 to BRL 345,93
  • 49 to 53 years old: from BRL 137,12 to BRL 512,01
  • 54 to 58 years old: from BRL 147,52 to BRL 655,34
  • More than 59 years old: from BRL 250,22 to BRL 846,83

How a foreigner can apply?

Brazil has got a bilateral agreement with the following countries:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Uruguay
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Cape Verde

This agreement guarantees access to medical services for foreigners who pay INSS.

Outside this there is no clear regulation regarding the access to SUS by foreigners living in Brazil. Brazilian citizens are required to present an ID card (RG) and in almost half of the Brazilian municipalities, a proof of residence. Depending on the municipality the passport will be accepted as an ID card.

To get a private health insurance, a CPF number is required. Foreigners who do not have a CPF number may present the RNE.

One problem that is present in both public and private health care providers in Brazil is the lack of staff that is English speaking. With the exception of a few sophisticated medical centres, foreigners will struggle to find someone who speaks English and in most cases will have to take a Portuguese speaker with him when going to see a doctor.

Market trends – The future

As a result of Brazil’s GDP growth during the 2000s, their almost full employment status which lead to higher wages and more consumption, credit expansion and being Latin America’s top destination for Foreign Direct Investments, more than 50% of Brazil’s population is now in the middle class. These factors, amongst the following, led to a series of positive forecasts for the healthcare sector in Brazil: 

  • Increase in purchasing power 
  • Consumers willing to spend more for better health care services 
  • Favourable demographic conditions 
  • Growing elderly population 
  • Governmental initiatives that attract investments 
  • Consolidation of the sector, which boosts strategic planning