A report published by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies shows that European countries have still a long way to go in providing universal healthcare services. While a majority of the sample of surveyed people reported having no access to healthcare coverage, nearly a quarter of them were children.
Testimonies and data collected from 43,286 people attending programmes run by Doctors of the World and partner NGOs across Europe show that migrants coming from outside the EU/EEA is the most vulnerable group because they are almost entirely excluded from the healthcare services. Economic and administrative barriers are among the main obstacles to accessing healthcare, identified by 18 % and 16.3% by surveyed respectively. Moreover, report says that fear of being arrested may also prevent individuals from seeking medical attention even in the most risky cases.
In 2015, according to International Organization for Migration, five European countries required healthcare professionals or services to report irregular migrants to authorities, and more had information sharing mechanisms with immigration enforcement bodies.
“As a doctor I find it absolutely distressing that someone decides not to see me because of the fear of arrest. We should not be using our healthcare services to deport or arrest individuals for immigration purposes. Member states who practice this should really revise such a policy,” Rob Aldridge, a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellow at the Institute of Health Informatics and academic Clinical Lecturer at University College of London said.
However, not only irregular migrants, but also EU nationals can also encounter significant difficulties when it concerns receiving medical assistance because of its high cost. In 2016, Germany passed a draft bill, which reduces the rights of some EU citizens, residing legally in Germany, to access the country’s social welfare system, including healthcare. Though this law directly concerns citizens coming from poorer member states and aimed at ceasing a so-called “welfare tourism”, critics argue it contravenes the Commission’s efforts to revitalize the social pillar of Europe.
“There are big holes in terms of providing universal access to EU healthcare, where our commitments really stuck up and not translated into policy action. Sometimes, an entire ethnic group like Bulgarian and Romanian Roma which accounts up to nine million people is excluded from receiving any medical assistance,” Nina Renshaw, Secretary-General at European Public Health Alliance.
Most member states recognize the importance of protecting public health and even provide access to vaccination and treatment for certain infectious diseases. However, varying compliance levels and lack of sufficient funding across the EU make even those basic medical treatments inaccessible.