Healthcare in Portugal – Your rights || Part 1

When the universal Social Security system was established in Portugal in 1962, life expectancy was just 66.8 years of age. In 2016, this national average in Portugal reached 81.1 years: 78.2 for men and 83.9 for women.

Healthcare makes a difference. At the time, Portugal had one of the highest infant mortality rates in Europe. Today, this key health indicator is one of the lowest. In fact, of 190 United Nations member states, the Portuguese National Health Care System currently ranks nº12 in overall performance by the World Health Organisation, ahead of Holland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland. Good healthcare does make a difference!

The Portuguese health system is characterised by three coexisting systems: the National Health Service (NHS), special social health insurance schemes for certain professions (health subsystems) and voluntary private health insurance. The NHS provides universal coverage. In addition, about 25% of the population is covered by the health subsystems, 10% by private insurance schemes and another 7% by mutual funds.

“A Caixa”, as the National Health System is popularly called, provides total healthcare coverage to registered individuals and is funded through the Social Security System.

A private healthcare system is also available, offering high quality medical services to patients.

Medical treatment is available for anyone entering Portugal regardless of where they are resident. In fact, healthcare is a constitutional right in Portugal.

One of the many difficulties faced by immigrants who live in Portugal is the problem of access to healthcare. Any Portuguese or foreign national has the right and the obligation to care for his health and to help those around him do the same.

I am a foreign national residing in Portugal. If I am sick, what are my rights and obligations?

All nationals have the right and the obligation to look after their health. Any immigrant on Portuguese territory who is sick or in need of health care has the right to receive medical care in a Health Centre or in a Hospital (in case of an emergency). Those health services may not refuse to provide assistance for any reason related to the person’s nationality, lack of economic means or legal status.

The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic provides that all citizens – including foreign nationals – are entitled to general health care and, for that reason, all existing services must be made available to meet the specific health needs of any national, irrespective of his/her economic, social and cultural conditions.

This right is protected by regulation in Administrative Order of the Ministry of Health nº 25 360/2001.

What should I do if I am refused health care?

You should go to the user office of the Health Centre or Hospital, or alternatively to the user office of the sub-regional Health Service headquarters. You can also go to the Directorate-General of Health, the Ministry of Health or the National Centre of Support for Immigrants at the Office of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue, I.P.

This is the first in a three-part article. Next: More questions and answers

By Dennis Swing Greene
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Dennis Swing Greene is Chairman and International Tax Consultant for euroFINESCO s.a.