The Federal Government’s bill aimed at reforming emergency medical assistance for undocumented or homeless persons was sharply criticized by the opposition at a parliamentary commission on Tuesday. Under the existing legislation, undocumented migrants in Belgium have a right to medical assistance in the event of an emergency, but, according to Social Integration Minister Denis Ducarme (Reformist Movement), the system is being abused. Some people were reportedly reimbursed for plastic surgery, ultrasounds during pregnancies or circumcisions, even though these were not emergencies, he said.
For the Government, such abuse needs to be curbed, especially since it made up 6% of emergency medical assistance between January and June 2016. In such cases, the State intends to have a controlling physician determine the emergency nature of the assistance.
Ducarme argued repeatedly in the commission that the draft does not call into question the fundaments of the right to emergency assistance. Rather, the reform aims to plug certain gaps in the current law, establish a clear division of labour between the public social services centres, CPAS, and health care providers, and simplify everything from an administrative point of view.
However, the opposition was not convinced. “We do not have the impression that the idea here is administrative simplification,” parliamentarian Karin Jiroflée of the Socialist Party Differently (sp.a) said. “You seem, rather, to be bent on restricting the right to emergency medical aid. Everything points to that.”
The Greens were no less critical. “Is the MR trying to clone the N-VA (New Flemish Alliance)?” the Ecologist Party (Ecolo) asked. “By making people believe that the foreign populations present on our soil are being reimbursed for plastic surgery, that the women abusively use ultrasounds when pregnant, that an explosion in health care has been observed among them, Minister Ducarme is clearly trying to stigmatize the foreign populations present in Belgium.”
For the Greens, it is important for the minister to back up his assertions with figures. It would also be good to hear from the services and organizations that provide these types of health care, they say.
“The right to health care is a fundamental right,” parliamentarian Muriel Gerkens (Ecolo) stressed. “And excluding part of the population from it exposes these persons, and also the entire population, to serious public health risks.”
Even parliamentarians from the ruling majority felt the text needed to be clarified. “The definition of emergency medical assistance is so complex that it would be good to clarify all that; I can understand that there are questions,” Valerie Van Peel (N-VA) commented even as she defended Ducarme.
“The minister has been very clear,” she said. “the bill does not seek to privatise health care. Everyone, whether or not they are here illegally, has a right to it.”