Defensoría seeks free pre-natal care for uninsured and illegal women

The Defensoría de los Habitantes has called upon the nation’s health service to give free pre-natal care to pregnant women even if they are uninsured, owe money or are illegal.

Costa Rica frequently is promoted as a country where there is free health care. In fact, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social receive substantial amounts of  money each month from employees and employers to cover health services. In addition, there is a system of individual health insurance with the Caja.

The Defensoría de los Habitantes said that there have been complaints of Caja workers denying pre-natal care to women who were behind on their insurance payments.

The agency, which serves as a sort of ombudsman or people’s champion, said that pre-natal care should be provided free even if those needing it are uninsured.

The Defensoría said sometimes Caja workers bill women who come for care uninsured. Some women decline to seek such care because they know they have accounts outstanding with the Caja, the Defensoría said.

The statement Thursday also said that women who are illegal immigrants and probably working off the books also have been denied such services. The complaint said that such women frequently were questioned about their assets and property ownership before being awarded insurance paid by the state.

Caja workers have demanded that foreign women who seek pre-natal care have been asked for their residency cėdula or passport showing a valid visa in order to weed out illegal aliens, said the Defensoría, adding that care should be offered as well as free insurance even to persons who are in the country illegally.

Pregnant women from Nicaragua have been known to enter the country illegally so their child would be born a citizen here. That would give the mother residency, too.

The Defensoría complaint does not include childbirth. Women in labor routinely are admitted to Caja hospitals regardless of insurance status, although they may get a small bill later.

In a separate topic, the Defensoría said that an agreement with the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz requires free medical care for families of prisoners. The ministry runs the prisons.

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