A new law has recently come into force in Finland that expands health care for undocumented migrants living in the country. Under this law, undocumented people can now access necessary care – that is, care that health care professionals deem necessary. This covers, for instance, conditions like diabetes or asthma that, if left untreated, would constitute a risk to the person’s health and increase the likelihood of urgent care being needed in the future.
Before this change, Finnish legislation only guaranteed urgent care, which was often interpreted restrictively as emergency care. More inclusive practices were left to the goodwill of doctors and municipalities. For instance, some necessary care was already being provided in Helsinki and Espoo.
In principle, undocumented patients are still expected to pay the full cost of the care they receive. If they do not have sufficient resources, they are still expected to pay the “patient fees” (what is not reimbursed by the state), while the medical professionals will be compensated by the health care authorities. Questions remain around how to evaluate the patient’s financial situation and ability to pay, and how much they will be requested to pay.
The law also allows undocumented people to access full maternity care and paediatric care, and covers groups as diverse as people who were denied asylum and other undocumented migrants, people who are waiting for a residence permit linked to, for example, family ties, and EU citizens without health insurance.
This new law is the result of long-standing advocacy by health care professionals, human rights and migrants’ rights organisations, like the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre and Physicians for Social Responsibility Finland, and the Finnish Medical Association. Some of these organisations participated in the parliamentary hearing at the committee of social and health issues on this law in September 2022.
Such advocacy also builds on the work of volunteer doctors and nurses at “Global Clinics” – medical centres present in various Finnish municipalities, where undocumented people can receive free health care and information on their rights. The clinics were founded some 10 years ago to compensate for the lack of public health care services for the undocumented population, and to encourage greater involvement from the state.
While it is too early to assess how it will be implemented in practice, civil society has largely welcomed this law as a very positive development that promises to significantly improve health care for undocumented people in Finland. It is also an example of how long-standing advocacy can lead to change.
20th July 2022: Status Now Network meets PCS Union members from the Department of Health and Social Care in London
to discuss the impact of immigration policy on health and care provision in the UK.