HEALTHCARE

Half-a-million illegal migrants stand to lose health coverage

Government moves to revoke provision that guarantees treatment and prescription medicines

Nearly half-a-million illegal migrants in Spain stand to lose their rights to free healthcare following the government’s move to revoke a provision in the current law that guaranteed that those without residency cards would be afforded medical treatment and prescription medicines.

The move, announced last Friday by Health Minister Ana Mato as part of the government’s far-reaching savings plans, has sparked a wave of criticism from the opposition.

“From a humanitarian point of view, this is a repugnant measure,” said Gaspar Llamazares, a United Left (IU) deputy in Congress and member of the health committee, on Monday.

The Popular Party (PP) government wants to eliminate the right to free healthcare for illegal migrants in order to curtail abuse by those who bring their family members from other countries to Spain for treatment, Mato said. “Registry on municipal rolls will no longer be the only valid requisite to apply for a health card,” Mato said after Friday’s Cabinet meeting. “Those applying for a health card will be checked out to see if they live here and, like us, work and pay taxes.”

The right to free healthcare for illegal migrants was first introduced in 1999 as an amendment to Spain’s Law of Foreign Nationals. It was slightly modified in 2000 under the government of José María Aznar.

According to the National Statistics Institute, there are 5,711,040 foreigners living in Spain. Of that number, an estimated 459,946 do not have residency papers.

Residency required

Government sources said that health cards will only be given out to those people who can prove that they are legal residents of Spain. Before the current law went into effect in 2000, those who didn’t have papers were afforded medical attention only in cases of accidents or if they became seriously ill.

To illustrate the problem of foreigners illegally using the Spanish health system, Mato released findings in a 2009 report prepared by the Court of Audit that shows that many French and Portuguese nationals cross the border regularly just to get free treatment. About 70 percent of the medical bills chalked up in Badajoz’s local hospital were for treatment given to Portuguese. The court’s findings also show that 543,349 foreign residents who have health cards have declared themselves insolvent.

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