Undeterred by the blips and wobbles of the markets last week, the Spanish Government is pressing ahead with their economic reforms – today outlining their plans for reform of the health service.
The spokesman for health issues within the Partido Popular, José Ignacio Echániz, went to great lengths to insist that “there will not be cuts” to the health budget. The Government are conscious that being seen to mess with the highly valued state-supported health system would cost them dearly in electoral terms.
Instead, Echániz insisted that spending “adjustments” will have to be made to recover some of health service’s €15 billion debt built up by the last Government, but that “the Spanish people will continue to have the service they have known up until now”.
The Ministry of Health, headed up by Ana Mato, has revealed that it is “already doing its homework to maintain the essence of the Spanish Health Service: that it is in universal, fair and free for all Spaniards.”
“For this reason,” added Echániz, “we need to make some reforms, which will be set out for the Autonomous Communities in the next weeks”.
To be certain to express his party’s support for the health system, Echániz continued, saying that the intention behind the reforms is that the health service remains “the crown jewel of the Welfare State”.
However, Echániz was less than candid about whether the reforms would attempt to include the controversial issue of copayment – whereby patients would be required to contribute a fee to received medical treatment.
The opposition PSOE seized on this point to issue a “head-on rejection” of any reforms which include the idea of copayment. Trinidad Jiménez, the Socialist spokesman on Health and Social Security issues, gave a press conference at PSOE headquarters today in which she warned that the issue of copayment was not off the table.
Any inclusion of copayment in the health reforms, she argued, would be “unfair” becacuase citizens “already pay with their taxes and would have to pay again on top of that”. Furthermore, it would mean patients would be forced to choose “whether to go or not” depending on their ability to pay.
She had one further warning: “When we look at what other EU countries have done, we see that with copayment the cost of health services have risen, whereas in Spain it is relatively cheap – two points under the average”.
Over coming weeks, as the Government begin to set out their reforms to the health service and social security, the skirmishes between the two main parties will undoubtedly escalate over such emotive, and electorally sensitive, issues.