Illegal immigrants who require medical assistance will have to rely on charity from now on - or, to use politically correct language, on "partnerships with non-profit groups." That was the solution proposed by Health Minister Ana Mato and the ruling Popular Party's health spokesman, José Ignacio Echániz, shortly after announcing that foreigners without residency papers will no longer have access to free state health care and prescription medicines.
"They will continue to receive medical treatment," insisted Mato in statements to the state radio station RNE. "Health services are guaranteed because we all hold that right; the royal decree does not change the current legislation and therefore the General Health Law [which talks about the universal right to healthcare] remains applicable 100 percent. [...] All regional governments are planning to reach agreements with organizations that assist immigrants outside the system, so they can also receive primary care assistance."
But Mato and Echániz did not clear up what will happen to people who require HIV medication, which is only available at hospitals. Neither health spokespersons nor Popular Party sources were able to explain how this issue might be handled.
Currently, antiviral drugs (which have a price tag of around 8,000 euros a year in their simplest combination) can only be purchased at hospital pharmacies. Even if someone had the means to pay for them, they could not buy them at a regular pharmacy.
All measures must be adopted to put a stop to health tourism and to contain spendin"
What's more, the drugs need to be taken for the rest of the patient's life, not only because of their beneficial effects for the individual, but also because this is the best way to prevent the virus from propagating.
And it's not just HIV drugs. Some cancer treatments are similarly inaccessible, although these normally only need to be taken for a period of months.
In order for people without a health card to continue having access to such medication, a method needs to be devised to let them obtain the drugs directly from hospital pharmacies, but this has never worked so far.
The government's announcement has drawn criticism from HIV support groups. On Wednesday, over 300 organizations protested simultaneously in seven cities over the cuts, and criticized the fact that the conservative government has not yet appointed a head for the National AIDS Plan.
Meanwhile, Madrid's regional authorities have already started denying health cards to immigrants who cannot provide proof of legal residency.
Catalonia, on the other hand, has defied the central government and announced it will continue to provide basic health care to illegal immigrants.
Sources in the Catalan regional government said that "all measures must be adopted to put a stop to health tourism and to contain spending in order to guarantee the sustainability of the system."
But this, it said, did "not include excluding from primary care and public health a community that is on the local rolls and therefore guaranteed the health card and access to the health system."