April 17, 2018

How to get medical care for your child if you are not a Ukrainian citizen

Last week a family came to us saying they had been denied medical care for their child in a Kharkiv hospital because the father is a citizen of another country (the mother is a citizen of Ukraine). They asked for a certificate confirming the girl’s Ukrainian citizenship. The situation was resolved, and the girl properly treated, but me and my colleague, lawyer Oleksandr Semak, decided to find out how medical care for foreigners is regulated in Ukraine. If, say, your husband or wife is a foreign citizen, how can they or your children get medical help?

First and foremost: all – absolutely all children in the territory of Ukraine - have the right to free qualified medical care in public and municipal healthcare institutions. This is guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine (Article 49). When medical care is provided to a child, the child’s citizenship, race, sex or any other characteristics or circumstances do not matter (part 1, Article 3 of the Law of Ukraine On the Protection of Childhood). Such consideration for children is a norm in all developed countries. This is also affirmed in Articles 2 and 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the states, including Ukraine, determined their commitments.

A medical worker will face criminal liability for failure to provide assistance – from a fine to imprisonment for up to three years (Article 139 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

However, not all adult foreigners can get free medical care in Ukraine, reminds my colleague, lawyer Oleksandr Semak.

The Fundamentals of Ukrainian Legislation on Healthcare (hereinafter - Fundamentals) determine the procedure for obtaining medical services by foreign citizens. Under the law, they can be broken up into two groups.

  1. Foreigners permanently residing in Ukraine (those with a permanent residence permit) enjoy the same rights and have the same responsibilities in healthcare as citizens of Ukraine, unless otherwise specified in international treaties or laws of Ukraine.
  2. As for the foreigners temporarily staying in Ukraine (such as during the validity of their visa), they have to pay for medical care provided to them, including emergency care. This is stated in a number of legislative documents (Fundamentals, Law of Ukraine On Emergency Medical Care, Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 121 of March 19, 2014)

Nevertheless, speaking about emergency care, medical workers must first provide it and only then address organizational, financial and any other issues, because every person has the right to life and health.

By the way, after the healthcare reform, the issue of treatment for foreigners in Ukraine will be more clearly defined. The current Law of Ukraine On State Financial Guarantees in Public Healthcare stipulates that:

  • for foreigners permanently residing in Ukraine, the state guarantees full payment of medical services at the expense of the state budget (in other words, medical care is free of charge for them);
  • for foreigners temporarily staying in Ukraine, medical care requires payment (medical services can be paid for at their own expense, by voluntary medical insurance or from other sources not prohibited by law).

Oleksandr Semak notes: experience shows that foreigners temporarily staying in Ukraine prefer private clinics when there is need for medical services.

Who can protect foreigner patients in Ukraine?

The professional duty of doctors is to provide medical care to all who need it. The Fundamentals state: "Medical and pharmaceutical workers are obliged ... to provide timely and qualified medical and doctor assistance." Failure to do so results in criminal liability.

So what should you do if you or your child are denied medical care because you are a foreigner or stateless person?

  1. Show the medical worker that you know your rights and are confident in them. Politely explain that you or your child require medical attention right now. Feel free to record any violations: record audio or video, or use witnesses.
  2. Complain to the clinic administrator. Often, it's enough to just say this to the medical personnel. If the administrator refuses to help you - file a written complaint and demand to have it registered as an incoming document.
  3. Call the police to record the offense.
  4. It is also worth contacting the city or regional health department and submitting a complaint to the Ministry of Healthcare. Even if they will not be able to help you right away, it will serve to prevent similar situations in the future.
  5. File a lawsuit. In your statement, indicate all the facts, adding as much evidence as possible (an audio recording containing the offense, witness statements, a copy of the complaint regarding the actions of the medical personnel addressed to the clinic administrator, city and regional healthcare departments and the Ministry of Healthcare, as well as, for instance, the police protocol).

Let us reiterate: all children without exception as well as foreigners permanently residing in Ukraine have the right to receive medical care free of charge, and refusal to provide it is grounds enough for bringing the guilty person to account.