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Pandemic unemployment leaving more without health insurance

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AmberMed NGO clinic for uninsured patients
AmberMed NGO clinic for uninsured patients   -   Copyright  Vienna
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Doctors and experts are worried that the number of people without health insurance is rising due to the pandemic.

Migrants appear to be particularly affected, but there is also an increase among middle-class nationals.

This negative consequence of the pandemic is happening across the European Union, but it is especially visible in Vienna.

According to AmberMed, a free healthcare clinic in the city, the number of uninsured pregnant migrants there has increased by 30%.

Elina Smuk is one such migrant. She is Romanian and lost her job as an English teacher when the pandemic started. Losing her job also meant she was no longer entitled to health insurance.

"I lost everything," she tells us.

English teacher from Romania
Elina SmukEnglish teacher from Romania

In Austria, health insurance is linked to employment. Without a job, the pregnant Elina is dependent on the help of volunteer doctors. The AmberMed clinic in Vienna offers free medical assistance to anyone without medical insurance, like Elina. In order to cope with the recent increase in patients in Vienna, the clinic has had to look for reinforcements.

Monika Matal is the volunteer head doctor at the free clinic. She tells us that patients are glad their facility exists. Anyone can get treated there, "the only condition," she says, "is not to have insurance".

In many other European countries, health insurance is linked to citizenship or residency, making anyone legally in the country officially insured. In the particular cases of Austria and Germany, health care coverage has been extended in recent years. Only a small percentage remains without insurance. The highest number of medically uninsured people in the EU are in Poland, Hungary and Estonia.

However, the pandemic is making this situation worse. Last year, unemployment rates were higher amongst foreign workers than amongst locals in almost two-thirds of the OECD countries.

Vienna
Michael Fuchs talking to Euronews reporter, Johannes PleschbergerVienna

Michael Fuchs from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research confirms this dramatic rise in the number of people using medical facilities for the uninsured. He tells us that "people with a migration background are affected". He puts this down to them being often precariously employed making them the first victims of pandemic unemployment.

Elina's situation is not unique, but it does show the failures in Europe's health insurance systems. Elina is continuing to look for work, as she wants nothing more than to find a job and for her baby to be healthy.

This story is part of a series of healthcare-related articles that Euronews will publish between March 29 and April 2.