Is Healthcare Free in Brazil?
Brazil is known internationally for a lot of things: paradisiac places, carnival, soccer, coffee, great food, and sometimes, unfortunately, for some bad things that happen over here. But if there’s one thing that works in Brazil is the health system.
Healthcare in Brazil is 100% free for everyone. The Unified Health System (SUS) is one of the largest and most complex public health systems in the world.
However, the system is not perfect. There are fails and usually the most of the population that makes enough money prefer to pay for private healthcare as a complement for SUS.
Even so, Brazil is the only country with a population of more than 200 million people that has a healthcare system that is totally free for everyone.
Understanding the Brazilian Health System
The Brazilian Health System is guaranteed by the Brazilian constitution. The Unified Health System (SUS), an administrative organization aimed at promoting Brazilian public health, whose access must be universal and equal, constitutes itself as a regionalized and hierarchical network, organized according to the guidelines established by the Federal Constitution itself 1988, as follows:
“Art. 196. Health is the right of all and the duty of the State, guaranteed through social and economic policies aimed at reducing the risk of disease and other diseases and universal and equal access to actions and services for their promotion, protection, and recovery.”
Also, conforming to the law the Health System must be universal and access must be equal, and there should be no distinction about the group of people, nor the services provided.
Basically, the constitution and the laws say that the Brazilian health system MUST be always free and available for everyone (in my opinion, the second part is a mistake. But I’ll talk more about it in this article).
What Is SUS?
According to the official website, this is the definition of what SUS is:
“The Unified Health System (SUS) is one of the largest and most complex public health systems in the world, ranging from simple care for blood pressure assessment, through Primary Care, to organ transplantation, ensuring comprehensive, universal access and free for the entire population of the country. With its creation, SUS provided universal access to the public health system, without discrimination. Comprehensive health care, and not only assistance care, has become a right for all Brazilians, since pregnancy and for life, with a focus on health with quality of life, aiming at prevention and health promotion.”
This is not entirely true because the system still struggles to deliver universal access in a country with more than 200 million people.
The Principles of the Brazilian Unified Health System
As explained before, the system was created by the Federal Constitution back in 1988 and is governed by 9 principles, with the following three being the most relevant:
Guaranteeing the access of each and every person to any and all health actions and services. Before the institution of SUS, access to health services was only guaranteed only to people who contributed to social security.
It is a guarantee of access for anyone, under equal conditions, to the different levels of complexity of the system, according to the clinical need.
This is a logical consequence of the principles of universality, equality, and integrality. For access to health actions and services to be universal, comprehensive, and equal, it must be free. Thus, no amount should be responsible for the patient who uses the SUS services.
These are the pillars of the system. As I said, the system has a lot of problems, but in practice, they’re always (at least) trying to follow the principles and provide good health services.
With that being said now It’s time to share with you guys one of the best things (if not the best) about the program: the amazing work they do to provide free treatment for severe diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and others.
Free Treatments for Cancer, AIDS and Other Severe Illnesses
As you know now, in Brazil health is a right of every citizen and a duty of the State to guarantee its access to the population. You also know that I have a lot of critics of the system, but one of the nicest things about SUS is that they offer 100% free treatment for serious illnesses.
You did not read it wrong! And let me you one more thing: this is one of the promises of the system that actually works well and fast for everyone.
In Brazil, for cases of serious illnesses, where treatments and medication are very expensive, patients have the possibility to receive full free treatment through SUS.
That’s awesome! There’s a full list of serious or rare diseases that have a wide range of symptoms and can receive full free treatment in Brazil.
Everyone with one of the diseases on the following list has the right granted by law to receive 100% free treatment:
• Malignant neoplasm (cancer);
• Ankylosing spondyloarthritis;
• The advanced state of Paget’s disease;
• active tuberculosis;
• Mental alienation;
• Multiple sclerosis;
• Irreversible and disabling paralysis;
• Severe heart disease;
• Parkinson’s disease;
• Severe nephropathy;
• Acquired immune deficiency syndrome – AIDS;
• Radiation contamination;
• Severe liver disease;
• Cystic fibrosis (mucoviscidosis);
• Gaucher disease.
**As I don’t have any medical expertise, it’s possible that I have translated the name of some illnesses in the wrong way. If you notice so, please let me know through the comments.
To receive treatment, the patient needs to prove the existence of a serious disease. But in general, it’s a simple process.
My grandma had breast cancer diagnosed in a routine test provided by SUS and started the free treatment on the same day. I’m happy to say that she is cured and well 🙂 It has happened about 7 years ago and she has done all the treatment and follow-up consultations for free using SUS.
The Importance of the Brazilian Health System in The Pandemic
The operational and pragmatic strength of the Unified Health System (SUS), which completed 32 years of existence in 2020, was well measured during a pandemic of the new coronavirus.
With the country hit hard by a virus of moderate lethality, SUS was (and continues to be) of fundamental importance in combating the pandemic.
It is no secret that Brazil suffered a lot with the new coronavirus, but the numbers would be even worse without our health system.
The reason for this is not that “the system is perfect and works like a charm” as many like to praise. It is not. We need to be realistic.
What makes all the difference are the people on the front line, committed to the patient, fearless, risking their lives, and often their families to serve. For the money, you can be sure, it is not. SUS nurses and doctors earn much less than in other countries.
Therefore, these professionals deserve to be highlighted in this article. Thank you so much for your service! Not only in Brazil, but in the world.
In addition to initial care, testing, diagnosis, and intensive treatment for patients with covid, SUS has another key role in the pandemic: the vaccination.
To this day, all doses of vaccines applied in Brazil have been applied by the Unified Health System workers.
Of course, the system is full of failures, problems, and corruption. But the pandemic served to show and improve the image of the system for many people. Even research data has already demonstrated this.
Why This Model Still Not as Efficient as It Could Be
After all the praise for the system as a whole and especially to the workers (heroes), it is time to understand the problems of SUS. This is not an attack on SUS, is just a finding of the problems and challenges in offering healthcare for free in a giant country like Brazil.
This is necessary so that you, the reader, who may be considering moving to the country to have better health treatments, get to know the reality as a whole.
The system’s main problem is the delay in attendance and procedures that need to be performed by specialist doctors. It is not uncommon for people to die in the queue, and this is a sad fact.
According to specialist Marco Akerman, this problem is caused by the fact that in Brazil we continue to treat the queue of care and surgeries on a first-come, first-served basis.
Another problem with the system is the lack of resources. The system indeed does a lot with the little money it receives, but it is not fair to ask the Brazilian people who already have on their shoulders one of the largest tax burdens in the world to pay more taxes.
Earlier in this article, I said that the universalization of free service was a problem and I now intend to explain my opinion.
I think that if the people who use the system and have clear conditions to pay for the care did so, there would be more resources left to serve the most vulnerable. However, the law is explicit in not allowing this type of attitude.
That’s a pity, as patients who want to be treated more quickly often seek private clinics and pay other doctors, which does not generate SUS revenue.
The mentality of relying on the government to always manage resources and hospitals creates inefficiency anywhere in the world. I believe that more public-private partnerships would help the system to serve more people and raise more money. But of course, this is only my opinion. There’s no free lunch.
Anyways, the amazing efforts of the workers of the system through the pandemic seem to have had a great impact on the popularity of the system. Back in 2018, more than half of Brazilians considered SUS “bad” or “terrible”.
There is no official poll data for 2020 or 2021 yet, but the population is often doing parades and marches to honor and thank for the service of the workers of the system.
Foreign Residents and Tourists Can Use Brazilian Healthcare?
As provided for in the Foreigner Statute promulgated by Law No. 6,815, of August 19, 1980, foreigners residing in Brazil have the same rights attributed to Brazilians under the terms of the Constitution and the laws.
It means that healthcare is free in Brazil even for foreign residing over here. But what about tourists?
Similar issues were determined by Decree no. 18,956 / 29 that made official the conventions of International Law approved by the Sixth American International Conference of which Brazil was part. In Article 5 it is clear that individual guarantees are granted to foreigners domiciled or passing through while they are in the national territory.
The Brazilian Federal Constitution created the Unified Health System to enforce the State’s duty to provide the entire population with access to health since this is considered a social right around here.
You’ll probably be able to use the Brazilian free system If you ever need it around here, but the best practice is always to pay for good travel insurance when you’re traveling to a different country.
It’s the best way when you don’t know the country, the rules of public health, and the quality of the service itself. For tourists, I’m not afraid to say: never travel without good health insurance.
For foreigners domiciled in Brazil, the best way to have a good health system available for you is to rely on SUS and complement it with a private option.
Wow. That was a lot of information. As the topic “Is Healthcare Free in Brazil” involves a lot of things, from political points of view to life experiences using the system, this article was hard work to write.
Brazil is an amazing place and with all its failures and problems, I can say that our health system is good. It’s not perfect. But it’s good. And like the people of our country, the system is welcoming. So I hope you never ever need it, but if you do, you’ll probably be assisted.
As a tourist traveling internationally to any country, please, always do good travel insurance. It’s not that expensive and It can literally save your life.
Even so, I hope it gave you all the information that you needed about the Brazilian health system.
If you liked this article and think that It can be helpful to a friend, share it with him. If you still have doubts about healthcare in Brazil or any other thing, feel free to always leave a comment. I’ll read and reply ASAP.
If you want to read more incredible articles about Brazil, just click here and enjoy.
Once again, thanks for reading.
I see you next time 🙂