Spain to allow illegal immigrants to access free public healthcare again
Spain will allow illegal immigrants to access free public health care after banning undocumented migrants from seeing GPs as an austerity measure.
Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, announced the u-turn on Tuesday, admitting that the 2012 rule change which barred foreigners not registered with the Spanish tax office from health centres had led to a “saturation” of accident and emergency wards in hospitals.
Under the reform pushed through three years ago by Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party, illegal immigrants were banned from the public health service unless they paid into a special insurance scheme.
The only exceptions were pregnant mothers, children and access to A&E in emergency cases.
It is estimated that over 800,000 migrants had their health cards removed while the government reported that only 500 people had signed up to the special insurance policy.
“It seems more sensible and reasonable that basic health care should be offered [to immigrants] at local centres so that, among other things, A&E wards are not collapsed,” Mr Rajoy said, admitting that “decisions taken in some regions” had affected the central government’s policy.
Catalonia and the Basque Country led a revolt of six regions which created their own regulatory framework permitting illegal immigrants to access free health care, while other regions largely ignored the ban.
The health ministry has not produced any data to show whether public money was saved by the ban.
Nor is it clear what legal framework will now be used to grant health care access to all immigrants, although Mr Rajoy ruled out a return to issuing health cards to anyone registered by local councils as a resident.
Associations representing immigrants criticised what they saw as the government’s slow and inadequate response to a health crisis among residents denied treatment over the past three years.
Fabricio Ortega, president of the FENADEE federation of Ecuadorean associations in Spain, said Mr Rajoy’s government had “turned a deaf ear to immigrant groups before realising that they had caused chaos” in hospitals.
“We are not to blame for the crisis; they forget that we have provided our labour to develop the economy. Health is something that mustn’t be played with.”