Migrants from the sub-Saharan region who were rescued off the Spanish coast | Credit: EPA/Miguel Paquet
Migrants from the sub-Saharan region who were rescued off the Spanish coast | Credit: EPA/Miguel Paquet

The mortality rate among undocumented migrants in Spain has risen by 15 percent since reforms denied access to free public healthcare, according to new research.

A public healthcare reform introduced by the Spanish government in 2012, which excluded illegal immigrants from access to public healthcare has caused an average 15 percent increase in the mortality rate among undocumented foreigners in Spain, a new study has said. 

The research was jointly carried by the University of Barcelona's Economics Institute and the University Pompeu Fabra's Center for Research in Health and Economics (CRES). The study focused on analyzing any changes in mortality rates in the population residing in Spain between 2009 and 2015 compared to the previous period from 2009 to 2012. The research found that an additional 70 deaths per year were registered among undocumented migrants since the law was approved in 2012. The reforms were introduced by the conservative government led by the Partido Popular. 

Immediate effect on undocumented migrants 

The data was analyzed by three researchers: Judit Vall from the Economics Institute and Armau Jianmarti Mestres and Guillem Lopez Casasnova from CRES. They found tha, until 2012, mortality had decreased at the same rate among local residents and undocumented migrants. But the new legislation, approved in 2012, had an immediate effect on the section of the population that was not covered by the system. One year later, 873,000 health insurance IDs were taken away from people who were unable to certify their residence. This was estimated to be 13.87 percent of immigrants in Spain and resulted in an average increase of 70 deaths per year, the study said. 

"Data from the study showed that the effects of the healthcare reform worsen over time so that in 2015, the mortality rate among irregular migrants was up 22.6 percent compared to the number of deaths registered before the law," the researchers said. 

The study mainly attributed the trend to two factors. Firstly there was a halt in treatment for life-threatening illnesses and secondly, no access to early diagnoses for potentially fatal diseases. 

Healthcare coverage maintained under 19 years of age 

The mortality rate increased more significantly among Asians, followed by migrants from Central and South America and those from Africa. The reforms, which were approved by Mariano Rajoy's government, were aimed cutting public spending and limiting "healthcare tourism," but did not include minors under 19, who were still provided with free healthcare access. 

The study showed that for undocumented migrants under 19 years of age, the level of mortality did not increase. This confirmed that the negative trend was connected to the reform. 

Catalonia re-established universal public healthcare coverage in June 2017, when the Catalan administration approved legislation recognizing everyone's right to public healthcare in the region, regardless of their administrative situation.

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