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Finland: Universal Health Care for Undocumented Immigrants

(Mar. 25, 2014) On March 7, 2014, a new study by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) was presented to Social Affairs and Health Minister Susanna Huovinen. The study, which was commissioned by the government last year (THL utreder hur “papperslösas” hälsotjänster ska ordnas [THL Investigates How Health Services of “Undocumented Persons Should Be Organized] (Aug. 27, 2013), THL website), found that Finland should, if it wants to respect its commitment to human rights, extend health benefits also to undocumented immigrants. (Tillgången till vård en grundlagsenlig rätt [Access to Health Care a Constitutional Right], HELSINGFORSBLADET (Mar. 7, 2014).)

Under current legislation, undocumented persons are only awarded urgent care at their own expense, while emergency care is paid for by the government. (Papperslösa lovas bättre vård [Undocumented Persons Promised Better Care], YLE.FI (Mar. 7, 2014).) Under the new proposal, health care would be offered to undocumented persons on the same terms as those offered to local legal residents. (Id.)

It is estimated that the change in the health care law will cost an additional EUR 800,000 (about US$1.1 million) per 1,000 undocumented immigrants annually if they receive the same health care as. (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Press Release 41/2014, Report: Health Services for Undocumented Persons Must Be Specified (Mar. 7, 2014).) Another option presented in the study would be to give the undocumented immigrants the same rights to health care as asylum seekers. (Id.) Also, a third option, to extend non-emergency care only to expectant mothers and children, was presented. (Id.)

Helsinki has already relaxed its rules on health care and now provides undocumented mothers, children, and pregnant women free health care. (Tillgången till vård en grundlagsenlig rätt, supra.)

EU Emigrants Fall Outside of the System

Emigrants from EU Member States also fall outside of the current health care regime in Finland; by not having health care insurance from Romania or Bulgaria, several thousand Romani beggars and short-term workers lack access to health benefits. (Papperslösa lovas bättre vård, supra.) EU members are generally entitled to health care throughout the EU on the same terms as locals, at the expense of their home country, through the mechanism of the EU Health Insurance Card. (European Health Insurance Card, European Commission website (last visited Mar. 12, 2014).)

The term “undocumented persons” as used by the THL includes: persons from outside of EU who are present in Finland without residency permits (either their residency has expired or the stay is illegal); non-EU citizens who arrived legally in Finland but whose private insurance has expired or is insufficient for the care needed; and emigrants from EU countries whose stay is legal but who do not have health insurance from their home country. (THL utreder hur “papperslösas” hälsotjänster ska ordnas, supra.)

Prepared by Elin Hofverberg, Foreign Law Research Consultant, under the supervision of Edith Palmer, Chief, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Division II.