Home » Expat Focus International Healthcare Update June 2024

Expat Focus International Healthcare Update June 2024

New Gallup Poll Suggests Healthcare is a ‘Main Reason’ for Americans to Move Abroad

A new poll by Gallup indicates that the cost and difficulty of healthcare is a primary driver behind Americans’ desire to relocate. 70% of respondents told the poll that free healthcare was a factor in their choice of destination. Around half of US citizens say that they struggle with healthcare costs.

In addition, US nationals told Expat Focus they have felt increasing difficulties in obtaining house insurance. With the rise in severe weather, such as tornadoes, insurance premiums have been climbing sharply, and one respondent in New Mexico told us that although her premium has substantially increased, she feels fortunate to have been able to secure a policy at all.

Is it likely that a rising number of Americans might start to look abroad for property, if they can’t get insured at home or have to pay large premiums for both health and domestic insurance? We’ll keep you posted.

Health Warnings Issued Over Deadly Virus in Spain

Spanish healthcare authorities have issued an alert to tourists and expats after an elderly man was hospitalised in the Santander region with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), a tick borne disease which can also be transmitted through infected blood (the majority of people who contract it are slaughterhouse workers). The virus has a very high mortality rate (10 – 40% of patients die) and can cause epidemics. Since it is tick borne – and since ticks can also transmit other extremely unpleasant illnesses such as Lyme or the rare but devastating Powassan – keep an eye on yourself if you’ve been walking in the countryside, especially in long grass.

Eventbrite Promotes Illegal Opioid Sales

A recent investigation by online magazine Wired has revealed that illegal prescription drug sales for substances such as Xanax, Valium, and oxycodone have been appearing beside listings for recovery-based events. The site prohibits drug sales, but someone has evidently found a loophole, with 64 events also carrying links to pharmacies which the US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy say are unreliable or unsafe. This appears to be an algorithmic feature, with prescription drugs being targeted at customers who have run particular searches, for example.

Eventbrite describe these listings as spam and say that they’re attempting to deal with the issue. Cybercrime experts add that big sites like Eventbrite are targets of criminals and that such platforms have been slow in realising that they are part of the ‘threatscape.’

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Many expats buy medication online as it can be cheaper and simpler, particularly if you’re in an unfamiliar location, but we all need to be aware that buying prescription drugs online without the relevant prescription is not only unwise, but in many instances, also illegal.

Changes to South Africa’s Healthcare

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is aiming to bring healthcare for all, but the new move has not been greeted with enthusiasm by everyone. The proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme will bring in a fund to cover all South Africans, but the controversial aspect of it is a part of the bill which would prevent anyone who is covered by the new healthcare plan from accessing private insurance for any treatment which is covered by the fund.

Mr Ramaphosa told the press that he’s aiming to end ‘apartheid’ in health care:

“The rising cost of health care makes families poorer. By contrast, health care provided through the NHI frees up resources in poor families for other essential needs. The NHI will make health care in the country as a whole more affordable.” 

The scheme will be paid for through taxation, national insurance, and money paid by people earning over a particular threshold (the amount has not been announced yet).

But the Democratic Alliance, in opposition, says that it’s likely to lead to higher taxes and will fuel corruption. They estimate that it could cost up to a trillion rand.

The legislation has not yet gone through and may well fall at the Constitutional Court. It’s also not clear how it would affect expats if it’s passed.

Collapse of Andalucia’s IT System

Last month Diraya, the computer system which centralizes all the processes of the Andalusian Health Service (SAS) collapsed, causing chaos throughout the healthcare system. Diraya centralizes patient health management, which encompasses medical records and appointment management, to laboratory diagnostic tests or radiodiagnosis. Doctors had to ask for hard copy results and testing was cast into disruption, as was patient care. The stoppage lasted for several hours and has caused a revision of emergency protocols. It’s not clear what caused the outage, although British residents will be aware of recent ransomware attacks on pathology partner Synnovis, which has created havoc in London hospitals.

In addition, there was a cyber attack in April at medical diagnosis testers SYNLAB Italia, which covers labs and blood collection points. SYNLAB says that they have now restored operations.

The outage in Andalucia may not be related to these incidents, but what is clear is that medical institutions, and therefore their patients, are particularly vulnerable to malicious action by hackers, malware and ransomware groups such as Black Basta, who have admitted responsibility for the SYNLAB attack. Patients’ details, such as passport information, have been released on the group’s site along with corporate data and medical details. Overall, the group, which has links to the financially motivated hacking group FIN7, claimed the theft of 1.5 TB of data.

Cyberattacks of various forms are continuing to increase.  Check Point Research (CPR) released findings that healthcare organizations were subjected to 1,426 attacks per week in 2022. In 2023, over 100 million people are estimated to have been affected by cyberattacks on medical systems. John Riggi, national advisor for cybersecurity for the American Hospital Association, says that records are going to be broken in terms of people affected, with US organisations such as HCA Healthcare and Ardent Health Services having also recently suffered attacks.