Queuing for a health card in Ibiza. | Archive

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The restoration of free and universal health care to illegal immigrants was a priority policy of the current government when it took office in 2015. Health care for people without residence permits had been withdrawn by the Madrid government in 2012.

The Balearic High Court has been considering an appeal against the Balearic government's policy by the state's general administration. It has now ruled in favour of Madrid and has annulled the decision to restore health care and health cards (in fact they aren't cards as everyone else has but a specific document entitling illegal immigrants to use IB-Salut health services).

The government's spokesperson, Pilar Costa, says that there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the 8,200 cards given to immigrants without a residence permit since 2015 will remain in force as the High Court's ruling is not final.

The High Court has taken the view that the Balearic decision represented an exceeding of regional power and that it clashed with the decree of 2012 by which health care was withdrawn. The government's argument that it restored health care on humanitarian grounds "cannot justify or permit the breach of legality, which recognises that only the state and not autonomous communities (regional governments) has competence to define ... beneficiaries of the national health system".

The Balearics was not the only region to restore health care to illegal immigrants. There were six regions in all. In spring 2015 the Spanish government appeared to do a U-turn, but by August of that year it was warning the regions that strong measures could be expected because the European Union would impose multi-million euro fines on Spain. This warning, if anything, had the opposite effect to the one intended. Even the conservative-led Madrid regional government announced its intention to restore rights.