Health care in Spain

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Spain employs a universal health care system. The system is essentially "free" except for small, often symbolic co-payments in some products and services.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, total health spending accounted for 9.4% of GDP in Spain in 2011, slightly above the OECD average of 9.3%. The Spanish health care system is considered one of the best in the world, in 7th position in the ranking calculated by the World Health Organization.[1] Spain is ranked 1st in the world in organ transplants.[2][3] The public sector is the main source of health funding. In Spain, 73% of health spending was funded by public sources in 2011, very close to the average of 72% in OECD countries. Since 2010, real term spending on healthcare has declined in Spain.[4]


In an emergency, people can go straight to a hospital A&E. For any other type of hospital treatment a referral from a doctor is required. There are public and private hospitals, with the former providing free treatment. As some hospitals offer both private and state healthcare services, the presentation of a social security card, an EHIC, or proof of private insurance is advisable. As hospital doctors do not issue prescriptions, after discharge, patients take the hospital medical report to a pharmacy for prescriptions to be filled.

In Spain patients have the right to read their own patient records, but there is evidence that this is not well publicised.[5]


In Spain, provision of health care services is decentralised, and thus the responsibility of several autonomous communities. In 1998, an analysis of the effects of greater autonomy on legislative performance and policy outcomes for health care observed a positive effect on the former, but no effect on the latter. The analysis noted that a possible explanation for this disconnect was that autonomous communities had only experienced greater autonomy in the area of health care for a short time, and positive effects on policy outcomes could take longer to manifest.[6] In 2009, an analysis of data collected by the Spanish National Health Survey in 2001 showed that autonomous communities with decentralised health services tended to have better equity performance.[7] In 2014, an analysis of data collected by the Spanish Centre of Sociological Research between 1996 and 2009 found that for twenty variables of public satisfaction with health care services, decentralisation not only had no effect on 2 measures of primary or specialised care and 1 of hospital care, but actually performed worse on 3 measures of primary or specialised care and 1 measure of hospital care. No statistically significant trend was observed for twelve of the twenty measures of satisfaction. The authors of the analysis stressed that the data was limited due to the subjective nature of patient reports, and the possible inability of some to properly evaluate performance of health care services.[8]

International comparisons[edit]

In a sample of 13 developed countries Spain was second in its population weighted usage of medication in 14 classes in both 2009 and 2013. The drugs studied were selected on the basis that, in the previous 10 years the conditions treated had: a high incidence, prevalence and/or mortality; caused significant long-term morbidity; incurred high levels of expenditure or had significant developments in prevention or treatment. The study noted considerable difficulties in cross border comparison of medication use.[9] Ceuta had the highest proportion of practising doctors per head of any region in Europe - 871 per 100,000 in 2015.[10]

The Euro health consumer index rated Spain 19th of 35 European countries in 2015, remarking that there was somewhat of an over-reliance on seeking private care.[11]

Public Opinion on Spain's Healthcare System[edit]

According to Van der Schee et al., public opinion about a country's healthcare system is formed by the levels and quality of: trust between a person and their physician, media presentation of the healthcare system as a whole, and the services and care the system provides.[12] When looking at public opinion on Spain's universal healthcare system, generally people seem to agree that the state should be heavily involved in healthcare. Compared to 14 other nations in 2002, Spain ranked third highest for the amount of support the public had for a strong role of the government in healthcare.[13] In terms of public opinion concerning how well the healthcare system actually works, there is a general consensus that the public believes healthcare institutions themselves are doing their jobs well and providing sufficient care.[14] The most overwhelming problem reported by people who took a 2005 survey was that wait times to receive care are too long, though those surveyed reported that this problem could be fixed by the hiring of more physicians.[14]

Voluntary Health Insurance[edit]

Although Spain does have universal health care, it is not the only source of protection available to the Spanish people. In fact, there are three alternatives to relying solely on the provided universal health care: substitutive voluntary health insurance, complementary voluntary health insurance, and supplementary voluntary health insurance.[15] People who work in Spain's public sector are free to opt out of universal health care entirely if they agree to utilize the alternative: a government-subsidized health insurance called MUFACE.[15] This selection of using different health insurance instead of Spain's universal health care is an example of substitutive voluntary health insurance.

Complementary voluntary health insurance comes into play with citizens who use Spain's universal health care but still want additional private insurance to cover services which may not be protected under the universal plan.[15] While Spain's universal health care covers a substantial amount including many basic primary and pharmaceutical services, it fails to cover various important dental and gynecological services among other things.[16] If a Spanish citizen is seeking care outside that which is covered by the state, they have the option to purchase their own private health insurance to ensure that they are covered for any services they may need.

Lastly, supplementary voluntary health insurance is an option for those Spanish citizens who use the available universal health care, but would also like additional private insurance which may provide them superior options/benefits.[15] In this case, having supplementary voluntary health insurance is a luxury that often helps people secure faster, more convenient, or better overall treatment.

According to the OECD, about 5% of the Spanish population was covered by one of the above types of voluntary health insurance in 2002.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ World Health Organisation, World Health Staff, (2000), Haden, Angela; Campanini, Barbara, eds., The world health report 2000 - Health systems: improving performance (PDF), Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organisation, ISBN 92-4-156198-X
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "OECD Health Statistics 2014 How does Spain compare?" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Outcomes in EHCI 2015" (PDF). Health Consumer Powerhouse. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  6. ^ Antón, R., Macías, JI; Muñoz de Bustillo, R; Fernández Macías, E (May 2014). "Effects of health care decentralization in Spain from a citizens' perspective". The European Journal of Health Economics. 15 (4): 411–431.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Costa-Font, Joan; Gil, Joan (December 2009). "Exploring the pathways of inequality in health, health care access and financing in decentralized Spain". Journal of European Social Policy. 19 (5): 446–458.
  8. ^ Gonzalez, Pablo; Fraile, Marta (October 1998). "Regional Decentralisation of Health Policy in Spain: Social Capital Does Not Tell the Whole Story". West European Politics. 21 (4): 180.
  9. ^ Office of health Economics. "International Comparison of Medicines Usage: Quantitative Analysis" (PDF). Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  10. ^ Ballas, Dimitris; Dorling, Danny; Hennig, Benjamin (2017). The Human Atlas of Europe. Bristol: Policy Press. p. 83. ISBN 9781447313540.
  11. ^ "Outcomes in EHCI 2015" (PDF). Health Consumer Powerhouse. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  12. ^ Gille, Felix & Smith, Sarah & Mays, Nicholas. (2017). Towards a broader conceptualisation of ‘public trust’ in the health care system. Social Theory & Health. 15. 25–43.
  13. ^ Claus Wendt, Jürgen Kohl, Monika Mischke, Michaela Pfeifer; How Do Europeans Perceive Their Healthcare System? Patterns of Satisfaction and Preference for State Involvement in the Field of Healthcare, European Sociological Review, Volume 26, Issue 2, 1 April 2010, Pages 177–192,
  14. ^ a b Jovell, Albert, et al. "Public trust in the Spanish health‐care system." Health Expectations 10.4 (2007): 350-357.
  15. ^ a b c d Mossialos, Elias; et al. (2002). Funding Health Care: Options for Europe. United Kingdom: Open University Press. pp. 129–131. ISBN 0 335 20924 6.
  16. ^ World Health Organization (2000). Health Care Systems in Transition: Spain. World Health Organization. p. 43.
  17. ^ Colombo, F. and N. Tapay (2004), "Private Health Insurance in OECD Countries: The Benefits and Costs for Individuals and Health Systems", OECD Health Working Papers, No. 15, OECD Publishing, Paris,

External links[edit]