Healthcare coverage for undocumented migrants in Spain: Regional differences after Royal Decree Law 16/2012

Health Policy. 2016 Apr;120(4):384-95. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2016.02.005. Epub 2016 Feb 17.


The economic crisis has prompted the debate on how to regulate health coverage of undocumented migrants in publicly funded healthcare systems. Spain, as one of the most heavily affected countries in Europe, can be considered a case of particular interest. In 2012 the Spanish Government issued a Royal Decree Law (RDL 16/2012) which revoked their previous full right to public healthcare coverage, now limited for some exceptions. However, the Spanish National Health System is highly decentralized, and this Central Government decree had to be implemented by the Regional Health Authorities. Our aim is to compare regional policies regarding entitlement to healthcare for undocumented migrants after RDL 16/2012 in the 17 Autonomous Regions by performing an exhaustive review of the regional health policy regulations published after the enactment of RDL 16/2012. Our analysis shows that many Regions adopted legal, legislative and administrative actions to void or limit its effects, while others applied it as intended, resulting in huge differences in healthcare coverage for irregular migrants among Spanish Regions. The unequal implementation of this Law constitutes a paradigmatic example of the complexity of nation-wide regulation of controversial key issues in decentralized health systems. In addition, our results highlight that within-country differences in access and/or entitlement can be as relevant as those reported among-country when there is healthcare decentralization.

Keywords: Health inequalities; Health policy; Immigrants; Migrants; Spain.

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs / economics
  • National Health Programs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Politics*
  • Spain
  • Transients and Migrants / legislation & jurisprudence*