Health Minister says she will plug the loopholes

Fecha Publicación: 
28 Abril 2012

Ana Mato says she intends to put an end to the “illegal” use some foreigners make of the Spanish health services

Sur in English | Noticia

Ana Mato, Spain’s Health Minister, has announced a series of measures aimed at cutting costs in the Health Service, including changes to the “Ley de Extranjería” (Foreigners Law) which affects non-EU immigrants.
The reforms also include a tightening up of controls over what is known as “health tourism”. According to Mato, some 700,000 foreigners use the Spanish health services every year, at a cost of 917 million euros which due to an error in the way European directives are applied cannot be reclaimed from their country of origin. This error will be corrected to prevent foreigners from coming to Spain for treatment to which they are not entitled. Mato added that certain international Health agreements will be re-examined, as “many” countries are currently not repaying Spain for treatment received by their citizens. She did not specify which countries she was referring to, but a spokesman for the British Embassy in Madrid told SUR in English “The UK is receiving and paying healthcare bills from Spain. Bills for 2011 have already been paid. These bills cover all services provided by Spain to UK citizens under, for example, S1 and EHIC rules.” Asked to what extent the new measures are expected to affect British residents, the spokesman told us : “We are in contact with the Spanish authorities and we are continuing to clarify what the reforms might mean for British nationals in Spain”.
The application of any reforms is complicated by the fact that Spain’s autonomous regions administer their own health services.
According to Spain’s Court of Auditors, Spain sends bills to other countries’ health systems for services to 103,672 pensioners, while the total number of pensioners registered as living in Spain is 231,364, meaning that there are 127,692 retirees covered by the Spanish Health service for whom Spain is not reimbursed.
The auditors also found that the number of bills sent by Spain to France and Portugal was significantly higher than those sent to other countries, and that the services provided were concentrated around their common borders with Spain, suggesting that French and Portuguese citizens were crossing into Spain to get medical attention by showing the European Health Cards intended for use by tourists.
Spain’s auditors have also detected that the Health department received 3,148 bills in 2009 for dental treatment received by Spaniards in Germany, France and Belgium, where, unlike in Spain, such treatment is covered by the respective Health systems.
Cuts affect 38,000 ‘sin papeles’ in the province of Malaga
From September 1st, illegal immigrants in Spain who are known as “sin papeles” (without papers) will only be able to use the Health Service in an emergency, and during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Children under the age of 18 will still have the same rights to health services as Spanish nationals.
Of the 114,614 non EU immigrants registered as residents, only 76,473 have a residence permit. Of these, 53,449 are paying into the system. This leaves some 38,000 who will be without access to public health services. Apart from the obvious problem for those affected, it has been pointed out that the measure will lead to an escalation in the use of the accident and emergency services at hospitals. 

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