Monday, 15 February 2010

Andalucía health service costs €3,000 million per year; 'phantom bill' campaign in the planning

(El País) A quick visit to the doctor in Andalucía can cost under €140. If he sends you to the hospital for, say, an abdominal scan, add €35. But the scan indicates appendicitis - if all goes well, add €2,500. If not, add €6,000. That means four or five days in hospital - add €2,400, or €600 per day. If things don't get any worse, your bill would be anywhere between €5,000 and €15,000. However, if you are one of the 7.9 million people in Andalucía entitled to free medical care, you will leave the hospital without paying anything.
The total budget for the Servicio Andaluz de Salud for 2010 is €8,989.2 million, of which about a third (€2,996.4 million) is reserved for what they call 'attention'. According to the Junta's Health Department, the service costs €1,240 per beneficiary per year. Or €103 per month. The fact is that most people have no idea what the services they get actually cost. We get ill, we go to the doctor, we have an operation. We have an accident, we get taken to the hospital. That's it. But the health service carries out thousands of 'attentions' every day, ranging from treatment for a simple cold to a face transplant, >
as happened recently at the Virgen del Rocío in Seville. In fact, that hospital is the largest employer in the regional capital's metropolitan area, where its  8.093 employees represent 2.38% of Sevilla's labour. The entire service employs some 100,000 people, including emergency services and all the hospitals. According to the SAS's Director for Planning and Innovation, Celia Gómez, it could be the largest single employer in the country.

Of course, we're aware that there is a price and that we pay for our Social Security, but how much more do we know?

The Servicio Andaluz de Salud is planning an 'awareness campaign' that will include being presented with a 'phantom bill' after each 'attention'. It won't have to be paid. The idea, says Gómez, is to increase awareness among beneficiaries of how much their free service would cost them if they did have to pay for each 'attention'.

The general impression, says José Luis Pinto, Professor of Economics, Quantitative Methods and Economic History at the Pablo de Olavide University and an expert in Health Economics, is that the system "fails somewhat at the trivial level, such as at waiting times at a health centre. But at the most serious level, which is what we are most interested in, it works very well." He reinforces his argument by comparing what health insurance in the USA costs the average family: around €10,000 per year.

For its part, FACUA, the consumer's organization in Andalucía, admits that, proportionately, they receive very few complaints considering the size and quantity of the health service. "It balances out very favourably; we have a good health service although we often don't place the proper value on it," they say.

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