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Austerity's Bite: Undocumented Immigrants In Spain Lose Health Care

Article illustrative image Partner logo Waiting for hours in hospitals is now the least of Spain's immigrants' worries

MADRID - Since September 1, undocumented immigrants in Spain are now excluded from public health care. Only pregnant women and minors can still enjoy free public coverage, which had long been available to all undocumented residents. Others can still get care in cases of emergency, but for basic medical treatment, immigrants in Spain illegally will have to pay cash to see doctors.

This new law is undoubtedly one of the most controversial measures implemented by Mariano Rajoy’s government as part of the austerity plan he has launched to reduce public debt from 8.9% to 6.3% this year.

The austerity plan has affected both education and health services, two pillars of the Spanish welfare state. With such cuts, Rajoy aims to save 10 million euros a year, even in the face of severe criticism from several autonomous regions and pockets of social unrest in the country.

Several groups have called for demonstrations in front of Gregorio Marañon Hospital in Madrid on Saturday to protest cutting off health care to the undocumented. “Such a measure, implemented during a peak in the crisis, while the malnutrition rate is increasing throughout the country, while people are losing their houses every day, while one Spaniard out of four is unemployed, is a crime.”

Foreigners account for 10% of the total population and only 5% of medical consultations, explains Sagrario Martin, vice-president of Médicos del Mundo (Doctors of the World) in Spain. “Health care is not funded through social security contributions but through tax – including indirect taxes paid by undocumented immigrants when they buy goods.”

Fundamental right

The NGO has launched a campaign entitled "The Right To Cure,” which adds to the one initiated by the Semfyc (Spanish Society of Family Medicine), encouraging doctors to declare themselves "conscientious objectors."

Some 1,300 doctors and nurses have already signed the manifesto and continue to provide treatment to undocumented immigrants.

“The law creates an ethical conflict for professionals. It goes against a fundamental right,” explains Maria Fernandez, president of Semfyc Madrid chapter. “The new law will flood emergency care and increase expenses linked to worsening diseases that were not treated in time. Viral diseases will also rise as patients will become more contagious.”

Some patients have already been hit by the early implementation of the law voted in April -- like Angel Horacio Gonzalez, an Argentinan undocumented immigrant who received a kidney transplant in 2009. “Two months ago, I wanted to sign up for a new health care card, but my application was denied. I was told to pay 65 euros per consultation and 690 euros a month to buy drugs for the transplant rejection," Gonzalez said. "I can’t afford it.”

This 53-year-old Palma de Mallorca resident, who recently lost his construction job, says until now, his doctor keeps treating him at no charge. "But what's going to happen when it is no longer the case?”

On August 29, four autonomous provinces opposed the reform and boycotted the meeting with Health Minister Ana Mato. The provinces -- Andalusia, the Basque Country, the Asturias and the Canary Islands -- have issued a joint statement that says the new system amounts to a “restriction of a fundamental right.”

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This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.

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