(Photo via Telesur)

The debate regarding the possibility of charging foreigners for the use of public hospitals in the country has made its way to the forefront of the bilateral agenda between Argentina and Bolivia, as well as the National Congress.

Following the announcement of the Jujuy government – led by Governor Gerardo Morales, a close ally of the national government – about its plans to introduce a bill aimed at making sure that foreign patients pay for medical care, Cambiemos Deputy Luis Petri echoed the initiative and introduced one of its own in Congress that would make this a nationwide policy.

The idea is to sign reciprocity agreements with neighboring countries hoping that this will either ensure the possibility of Argentine citizens receiving medical attention free of charge in the participating countries, or for them to compensate each other for the services provided to their citizens. And, should those options not be a possibility, charging those who use Argentina’s public hospitals that are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In Jujuy’s case, its government’s Health Minister, Gustavo Bouhid, has already warned that the eventual fee would be of “between US $20 and $30.”

Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña had already supported Jujuy’s initiative yesterday, saying that “there are not many examples in the world of countries providing free healthcare to non-residents. It does not exist and that is the case for a reason.”

Taking into account that the vast majority of foreigners who get medical attention in the Northern Province are Bolivians, authorities of this country came out to address the issue.

The Bolivian Foreign Ministry released a statement yesterday clarifying that, in contrast with what the media reported yesterday, it did not reject the possibility of signing a reciprocity agreement with Argentina. It indicated that the proposal extended by Argentina was actually a “general approach to the issue,” and that the answer media interpreted as a rejection was in fact merely stating what Bolivian law currently dictates.

In an official response yesterday, the Evo Morales administration had argued that Bolivian law only provides healthcare to the following demographics: “Pregnant women since the beginning of their pregnancies until six months after the birth, children younger than five years old, men and women over 60, women who are still fertile but only when it comes to services that have to do with sexual and reproductive health, and people with disabilities.”

“Therefore, the signing of the treaty does not correspond,” the letter finished. Then came this tweet:

The letter states that “as a result of the fine level of dialogue that characterizes the bilateral relations between both countries, [the Bolivian Foreign Ministry] is willing to analyze any proposal that may be extended in the context of diplomatic practices and bilateral mechanisms created for these purposes.”

In case such an agreement is finally reached, the country’s provinces will have to evaluate what to do. Considering that they have authority over their own healthcare system, they will be able to choose whether the follow these eventual steps or not.