On April 20th, the Spanish government approved a new set of austerity measures, modifying the conditions of access to health system. Among other aspects, this new regulation denies access to regular health assistance for undocumented migrants. Starting September 1st 2012, only undocumented migrants in emergency situations, pregnant women and children will have access. Foreigners without a resident permit will no longer be eligible for the health card. These measures mean a serious breakdown for our health system and a dramatic change on undocumented migrants’ health coverage in Spain.
Let me highlight, very briefly, four aspects of it.
It is estimated that at least 150.000 persons will be directly affected by this new regulation. Pushing so many people out of the system will have a serious effect on the whole society. If undocumented migrants only receive emergency health care, they will be out of vaccination campaigns, prevention programs, and other public health initiatives. Spanish national public health system will become unable to map and to control diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis or HIV. Any one can imagine the potential dangerous effects that this measure can have on the public health of general society.
We all agree that we are facing a deep economic crisis, one of its aspects being a serious deficit. However, it is clear that cutting social benefits or limiting the effective access to human rights is not a good solution. Besides, dividing the population is a risky measure with uncontrolled effects. Social cohesion belongs to the core of a healthy society. On the contrary, discrimination, marginalization or criminalization of any particular group are signs of a divided and unhealthy society.
It makes no sense to blame a particular segment of society of the problems that affect it as a whole. Indeed, pointing the finger at the most vulnerable parts of society denotes a lack of ethical health. History proves what we recognize on personal basis in our daily lives: one can tell the moral standards of a person or a group looking at how they treat the weakest among them. Trying to come out of the crisis leaving people behind simply shows unhealthy ethical grounds.
The government has alleged economic reasons to justify the measure. Basically, we need to cut social costs in order to balance our figures and diminish our public deficit. Official data estimate the effect of this measure on about 500 million €. Regardless the fact that less than half of the population affected by those assessments is actually undocumented migrants, the government is not counting the expenses associated with the measure – for instance, information campaigns administrative procedures to implement it, or potential overuse of emergency health units. Nor it is counting the huge amount of money the State is receiving from undocumented migrants, via indirect taxes. At the end of the day, the measure approved may prove to be unhealthy also on economic grounds.