Jeanneth Beltrán was admitted to the public hospital on May 23rd with chronic symptoms of an unspecified liver complaint, including facial paralysis and vomiting.
Under a reform passed by Spain’s conservative Popular Party government, immigrants who do not have a Social Security health card must pay for treatment unless they have signed up to the administration’s official insurance scheme.
Emergency care, however, counts as an exception to this rule, but that did not stop the Toledo hospital sending her a billing letter dated June 12th, according to the online news site El Diario.
In the letter, the hospital’s management asks the patient to provide her documentation to the facility’s billing section "as soon as possible".
Campaigners against the government’s decision to charge undocumented immigrants for health care are angry at cases such as that of Jeanneth’s, symptomatic, they say, of a discriminatory policy which is preventing foreigners from receiving treatment.
"This letter is clearly illegal, but it is merely the consequence of a discrimination imposed by [the reform], something that is quite intolerable," says the protest group Yo Sí Sanidad, an association which accompanies immigrants left unprotected when they need to seek medical attention.
"This case is not just an accident or one-off, but rather another example of the reality known to immigrant groups: the attempt to charge them," the association adds.
The hospital’s letter is clear on this point, saying that if no answer was forthcoming in 20 days, "a bill will be sent out".
A spokeswoman for the hospital told Spanish daily eldiario that "this kind of letter is sent to any citizen who receives emergency attention without a health card.
"It is just an administrative procedure which is carried out periodically across the board," the spokesperson added.
The hospital claims that it is trying to contact the deceased’s relatives to confirm that no payments are due in this case.
According to people who knew her, Jeanneth Beltrán, had been feeling unwell for a year before her death.
"She was waiting for her papers so that she could visit the doctor at her local health centre," one source said. Yo Sí Sanidad explains that "immigrant communities in Castilla-La Mancha [of which Toledo is the capital] and Madrid don’t go to the doctor because they know that there will be an attempt to charge them".
On Thursday July 10th, immigrants who do not have residency papers plan to hold a 'protest vigil' outside the Health Ministry in Madrid at 9pm.