Spain takes pride in its universal health care but Europe's debt crisis has spurred tough budget cuts that will bring sometimes life-saving treatment for illegal immigrants to an abrupt end.Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government, faced with soaring unemployment, rising debt and a slide into recession, has launched an austerity plan aimed at cutting the deficit from 8.5 percent of GDP last year to 5.3 percent in 2012.
To achieve the package's target of cutting health expenditure by seven billion euros ($9.3 billion), onlylegal immigrants will retain health coverage as of September 1.
Among illegal immigrants, only children, pregnant women and emergency cases will qualify for free treatment.
"This will only put Spain on a par with other European Union countries," according to Health Minister Ana Mato.
The measure will leave half a million illegal immigrants who have been counting on Spain's health coverage with no safety net, and several organisations have been sounding alarm bells.
Of course, readers in the US will say: What? Illegal immigrants have had access to health care? However, the fact that even minimal health care is provided--rather than just throwing them out of the country--exemplifies the realization in Spain and other rich countries that this is a badly exploited group of people. They have filled labor holes in countries that are aging demographically, but which are not willing to face up to that demographic reality by changing the laws regarding who can migrate legally. We might call it something like "compassionate xenophobia."