Immigrants’ Access to the Spanish National Health Service, Part 3

The research project I initially planned, in some ways, could not be more different than that which is now in its final stages.  At the same time, however, my overall goals remained the same and provided me with a measure of stability as I (quite literally) ventured into uncharted territory. 

I quickly learned that I needed to refocus my original question as to whether the debates over the merits of health care for immigrants reflected the definition of Spanish national identity.  Why? – because even the detractors of this right recognize the fundamentality of the right of immigrants to access Spanish health care services, as codified in the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and later immigrant-specific legislation, on the national and regional level.  This general acceptance by all mainstream representatives of the political spectrum essentially rendered my original research question defunct.  To rectify my lack of clear intent, let alone a thesis, I reexamined the many sources already acquired and formulated a thesis that proved stronger and more relevant. 

Such explains the major transition of my project toward examining the implementation of this right, a topic that is anything but agreed upon by all parties.  My final thesis reads as follows: The pressures of the current economic crisis delay the already problematic implementation of immigrants’ legislated rights to health care because the crisis foments the development of a negative representation of immigrants and their role in Spanish society nuanced more by uncertainty than by tolerance.  In fewer words: the codification of immigrants’ right to health care does not simultaneously lead to their easy access to these services, which the skepticism fostered by the economic crisis only complicates. 

The basis for this difficult transition from paper into practice resides primarily with linguistic and cultural differences.  While some note these differences with the aim to overcome them, others highlight them as reasons for limiting the right to health care to autochthonous Spaniards.  Lack of access to basic information regarding immigrants’ right to health care, both on the part of medical professionals and immigrants themselves, also hinders full access to health care by all eligible individuals.  Decisions made earlier this year by the mayor of Vic, a small Catalonian city, demonstrate the effect of the economic crisis on the implementation of this right.  Due to his perception that immigrants overly benefit from social services, the mayor of Vic attempted to prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving the rights to health care and education by denying them enrollment in the town census, an action that President Zapatero’s government promptly branded illegal.     

Cádiz made all the difference in framing my research.  Though it is true that I conducted much of my research stationed at my computer, location played a grander role in shaping my conclusions than I even expected.  While in Spain, I benefited from access to a conference discussing the future of public health in an economic crisis and to presentations by NGO officials who themselves had immigrated.  Perusal of a local bookstore’s shelves lead me to a manual written for medical professionals looking to understand their patients of different cultures, a valuable resource to which I would not have had access if researching stateside. Walking the narrow streets of Cádiz, I observed the debilitating effects of the economic crisis firsthand in the cardboard, handwritten signs of individuals looking for a break, whether that be a few Euros or a job offer.  Personal experience with the Spanish culture lent my research greater breadth and depth.