Adrián García, 23, underwent a surgical procedure on his knee at the publicly funded Arnau de Vilanova hospital in Valencia last Tuesday. At the time, nobody told García, or any of his family members, that the 152-euro fee for the external knee brace that would be attached to his leg to immobilize the joint would have to be paid up front.
On Thursday, an employee at the orthopedic workshop that provided the knee brace to the hospital arrived on García's ward at the hospital to charge the patient. When told that the payment could not be made, the employee removed it, in the presence of García's mother.
García arrived at the hospital on Monday for a check-up, in a wheelchair and wearing a brace lent to him by a friend. "He put it on and adjusted it," said García.
The Valencia region introduced a copayment system in 2010 for such implements (neck braces, crutches, etc.), by which the orthopedic items are supplied to hospitals and paid for in full by the patient. When the bill is presented to the regional health department, the money is returned minus a fee according to the patient's income.
Of the 152 euros García was asked to pay, the administration has to refund 122. The remaining 30 are retained under the copayment system. Neither of García's parents is employed and he is on a remunerated plumbing and carpentry training course that pays 530 euros a month.
García asked if he could pay the workshop at the end of the month. "They told us they couldn't wait and if we couldn't pay, they'd take it."