I’ve been spending more time in Barcelona lately. There is a great system of shared bicycles here, called Bicing, and I’ve been using it a lot to get around the city. It’s terrific, especially late at night when it’s cool and there’s not much traffic. I love cruising along the wide Gran Via, or floating through Parque Ciutadella past the Arc de Triomf, along with other anonymous riders thinking their own late night thoughts.
But reality intrudes: what if I crash and get injured? Not likely, but certainly possible. Or cut my finger while slicing bread? Or get sick? I’ve never visited a doctor here and had no idea where to go. My health insurance from the US might reimburse me for emergency care, but I’m really not sure about that.
I turned to the internet and quickly put together a plan.
On Tuesday I went to the branch of the Ayuntamiento (town hall) in my neighborhood. The line moved quickly; in about 20 minutes I was talking with a very pleasant woman who offered to take care of my request for Empadronado status. That simply means that you have registered as a resident of the city.
I presented my NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero or Foreigner identification Number) document, obtained when I bought an apartment here a couple of years ago. The NIE is sort of a tax number, useful for many transactions like opening a bank account. You do not have to own property to get an NIE. The woman helping me also asked for my passport and some indication of my residence in the city. I presented an electricity bill in my name. A rent receipt or similar document would have been acceptable too. She turned to her computer screen and in a couple of minutes handed me a printed official Empadronado document – name, date, address, etc. Registered! The entire process was conducted in a cordial, helpful, professional manner and took about 10 minutes.
On Wednesday I went to the CAP (Centro de Asistencia Primaria) in my neighborhood to request a medical card. There is a CAP in every neighborhood. Medical care is provided in these modern, attractive centers. If you need more specialized care you might be sent from the CAP to a CAC (Critical Assistance Center).
At my neighborhood CAP there was no line and someone immediately offered to help me. She asked for my NIE, my Empadronado (of course!), and my passport. After a few questions and a brief conversation with her colleague about which doctor to assign me to, she entered my data into the computer system. She printed a temporary tarjeta medica showing the name of the doctor and nurse who will be my primary care providers. The permanent card will be sent by mail in a couple of weeks. I was at the CAP for about 15 minutes.
That’s it. I now have medical coverage in Barcelona and all of Spain. Amazing to me, a citizen of the USA, with its bizarre, convoluted, employer based health insurance system. And it’s mean spirited reluctance to make health care available to all of its citizens, especially low income folks.
I’m going to continue to wear my bike helmet (even though almost no Bicing riders use them) when I pedal through the city. With my tarjeta medica in my pocket, I may enjoy coasting through the Barcelona night even more!