"Starting on September 1, at least 150,000 foreigners from non-EU states who do not have residency rights in Spain, will have strict limits imposed on their access to the public health system,”explainsEl País, in the run-up to the application of thedecree on “urgent measures to ensure the sustainability of the National Health System. “Medical assistance for undocumented migrants will be restricted to emergency care, pregnant women and minors,” adds the newspaper. According to the government, the measure which is part of its austerity package, will result in savings of €500 million per year. However, El País remarks that —

A more realistic calculation would be for savings that will not exceed half of this sum – which is close to the figure for revenue lost because of difficulties billing for health services offered for free to EU-passport holders from other member states.

At the same time, the Madrid daily points out that “this decision will undermine the right to healthcare guaranteed in the Spanish constitution.” Worse still —

This measure will not only subvert the universal character of the public health system, but also the principle of free treatment. Individuals in this fringe of the population will only have access to comprehensive health care if they pay for a form of insurance (coverage on the basis of special agreements with health authorities), which will cost €60 per month for those aged between 17 and 65, and €155 for over-65s. This is a supreme absurdity that is almost obscene. There is no more astonishing demonstration of the the government’s total ignorance of social realities than the demand that the unemployed should pay charges which they will never be able to afford. Four autonomous communities – Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Basque Country and Asturia – have announced their opposition to the bill, arguing that it will undermine equality and social cohesion.

“The Spanish health system is internationally recognised for its very high standards of service”, points outLa Razón. However, the newspaper continues —

Such standards are expensive to maintain, and they can be jeopardised by budgetary imbalances. Abuses, like treatment for illegal immigrants, who do not contribute to the financing of the health system, are destabilising factors which must be remedied. In fact, all European states, with the exception of Spain, apply rules limiting access to public health care for illegal immigrants. In some cases, as in Sweden and Austria, these limits involve complete denial of access. The goal of such rules is twofold: they curtail ever increasing healthcare costs, and more importantly, they discourage illegal immigration, with its attendant labour exploitation and social security fraud. The Spanish government is simply implementing procedures that are already well-established in neighbouring countries.