Spain pushes “pay for health care”

Submitted by Matthew on 11 April, 2012 - 10:40

Spain’s new conservative government is planning to change Spain’s health service so that the sick will have to pay a fee for medical examinations, doctors’ visits and prescriptions.

Health care in Spain is currently free at the point of need, as in Britain’s NHS.

Already (on 14 March) Catalonia has legislated a one-euro fee for prescriptions, on top of a means-tested requirement to pay up to 40% of the cost of medications. Britain’s Health and Social Care Act (passed on 20 March) points in the same direction. By thoroughly “marketising” health provision, it makes the introduction of fees for health care a logical and all-too-easy next step.

Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 7 April, promised austerity measures in “all public services, but above all in health and education”.

To soften the blow, the Spanish government talks of pushing Spain’s autonomous regions, such as Catalonia, to impose the medical fees, rather than the fees being decreed across Spain, and of the fees being at first “nominal”. Once the principle of paying for health care is established, though, it will be easy to lever up the fees.

The Spanish government’s plans are part of a drive to reduce its budget deficit to 5.3% of output (a target set after haggling with the EU, which at first wanted 4.4%). Whether they can succeed even in that is doubtful. As well as cutting public spending, the government’s measures will cut output and employment, and thus tax revenues.

Unemployment in Spain is rising, and now near five million overall, and 50% among young people.

On Thursday 29 March, Spain’s two big union confederations, CCOO and UGT, struck against government plans to weaken workers’ protection against unfair dismissal. The unions say that 10.4 million workers, 77% of the country’s workforce, struck.

There were big demonstrations in Madrid (nearly one million people, according to CCOO; 170,000, according to the daily El Pais) and Barcelona (275,000, according to El Pais).

For a few months, the business pages of the press have been relatively smug. They suggested that the LTRO, the scheme under which the European Central Bank (ECB) has lent over a trillion euros, at very low interest and for three years, to European banks, had fixed things. By using some of the ECB euros to buy Italian and Spanish government bonds, the banks brought the “yields” on those bonds down below panic levels.

It is now becoming clear the LTRO was only buying time. Before Easter, yields on Italy’s (10-year) bonds went up again to 5.5%, and on Spain’s to 5.8 per cent. Portuguese bonds are still scarcely saleable.

On 30 March the European Union announced future terms for its bail-out fund, but economists calculate that the fund will be far too small to cope if Italy and Spain run into new crises.

Health protesters take on the vultures

On Thursday 5 April Health Alarm demonstrated at the London headquarters of Circle Healthcare, in posh Welbeck Street, W1.

Circle is a private healthcare firm which runs the recently-privatised Hinchingbrooke Hospital. It is run by bankers, and pays Tory MP Mark Simmonds, a former Tory health spokesperson, £50,000 a year for 10 hours’ “consulting” each month.

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