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Warning issued to regions giving health cards to illegal migrants

Source: El Pais - Fri 21st Aug 2015
Warning issued to regions giving health cards to illegal migrants

Spain's conservative Popular Party government has warned four regions that they face strong measures for passing laws that give undocumented migrants health cards and unlimited access to the public healthcare system within their jurisdictions.

Health Ministry general secretary Rubén Moreno on Thursday told Congress that the EU could impose "multi-million" fines on Spain if the regions in question – Aragon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Cantabria – chose to circumvent the government's 2012 decree that places limits on healthcare access for those without residency papers.

The consequences could be "catastrophic," he added, warning that the Popular Party government was prepared to take measures against those regions found to be "infringing state powers."

Following Moreno's statement, the top health official in the Castilla-La Mancha regional government said on Friday that it would soon also be introducing a similar law to provide healthcare access to illegal immigrants.

At the same time, Madrid Popular Party regional premier Cristina Cifuentes announced that her administration would in the next few months create a document specifically designed to allow those without residency papers to receive primary and specialized healthcare in the region.

Following the May 24 local and regional elections, 7 regional governments where the PP lost majority control have been introducing a series of laws aimed at overstepping the policies of PM Mariano Rajoy's central government, including preventing educational reform from taking effect and canceling privatizations.

Although Moreno's warning during a congressional hearing was specifically aimed at those regions attempting to roll back healthcare restrictions, there was an implied message to all seven authorities: be careful in reversing central government-approved measures.

The Socialist Party is the new governor in Aragon and has formed coalition partnerships in Valencia with Compromís; in Balearics with Més; and in Cantabria with the Cantabria Regionalist Party.

"It gives me the impression – and we have to study it – that they are likely violating powers that have been constitutionally established," said Moreno, the Health Ministry number two. "If it is that way, they need to understand that the state will have to take action."

Back in March, the PP government announced changes to its 2012 policy to allow illegal immigrants in Spain to have access to primary healthcare with a general practitioner, though not to apply for health cards.

Five months later, however, it has yet to put those changes into practice.

Under the health reform of 2012, free access to all public health services was taken away from illegal immigrants. Only undocumented minors and pregnant women were entitled to general care, although any migrant could still visit a hospital emergency room in the event of an accident or if they had an infectious disease.

Moreno did not explain what type of EU fines Spain could face as a result of changes made in the different regions. Last year, the Council of Europe came down hard on Spain and other member nations in a scathing report criticizing the limitations on healthcare services imposed on foreigners living illegally in those countries.

Cantabria health department chief María Luisa Real said on Friday that Moreno was having a "temper tantrum" and added that it was "a shame that the central government would spend money fighting the regions instead of using it to improve universal healthcare coverage."

Jesús Hernández Sanz, the top health official in Castilla-La Mancha, admitted to reporters on Friday that the purpose of the regional government's proposed law was to eventually revoke the 2012 decree. The Socialists and Podemos now govern in Castilla-La Mancha following years of PP rule.

For her part, Madrid premier Cifuentes said she favored a "harmonized" system that ensured all regions "acted in the same way" when it came to providing healthcare to illegal migrants.

Meanwhile, Balearics regional premier Francina Armengol said she felt "proud" to give back health cards to illegal migrants.

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