Energy crisis: Jose Maria Casais should be in a better financial situation than most of his fellow Spaniards thanks to his 2,700 euros a month in pension and disability benefits.
But Casais, a retired engineer in Barcelona, claims he is having to take money out of his savings every month since his energy costs increased as a result of his dependency on an oxygen machine to treat his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Casais has been connected to the oxygen concentrator for the previous two years, sometimes for the full 24 hours a day. He claims that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, his electricity bill has nearly tripled, leading to an energy catastrophe in Europe due to its reliance on Russian gas.
He is a member of the middle class in Spain and the recession has forced him into poverty. An Oxfam poll found that since energy costs increased last year, over 4% of Spanish households in the fourth income decile—a group traditionally seen as middle class—have spent more than half of their income on energy.
In Spain, only three out of ten households are now estimated by Oxfam to be able to save, down from nearly half before the energy crisis.
After paying for his other medical needs, which include a live-in carer, Casais spends between 300 and 400 euros on electricity each month, which is roughly quadruple what he spent before the crisis. As a result, he has little to no money left over for other necessities. He claimed he must begin using his money by the middle of the month.
Former Renfe engineer Casais told TradingTwistin his Barcelona apartment: “It restricts everything else; leaves no opportunity for other things.”
In order to supply oxygen to the patient, Casais’ oxygen concentrator draws air through a compressor, removes nitrogen, and filters the oxygen. Casais will be linked for anywhere between 17 and 24 hours, depending on how much trouble he has breathing on any particular day.
It’s not just him. The coordinator of the pulmonology section at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Dr. Sergi Pascual, estimated that five million people in Spain have COPD. According to the Spanish Association for Patients with COPD (APEPOC), it is the fourth leading cause of death in Spain and the third leading cause worldwide.
Other nations’ patients are likewise in pain. One in five British adults with asthma reported having life-threatening attacks as a result of spending less on food, medicine, and heating as a result of the rising cost of living, according to a poll of more than 3,600 people with lung disorders by the charity Asthma + Lung UK.
According to two medical organizations that represent kidney disease, people with other illnesses including kidney failure who depend on electricity-hungry gadgets to survive are also having difficulties.
Casais claimed that if it weren’t for his oxygen machine, he would have to remain continuously hooked up to a machine in the hospital, losing his independence and increasing the state’s expenses.
A PERMANENT DISEASE
Pascual stated that because COPD is “a chronic, irreversible disease,” the patients’ goal is to have meaningful, fulfilling lives and as a result, they require the required funding.
Not just oxygen machines run up expenses. Patients with pulmonary diseases must carefully control the temperature in their houses, which necessitates using air conditioning in Spain’s sweltering summers and central heating in the country’s chilly winters.
Casais added, “You feel awful if the weather abruptly changes from nice to a wet day. “Your breathing suffers from the cold.”
In order to control his costs, Fernando Uceta, 61, who underwent a double lung transplant in August and also has COPD, says he avoids using air conditioning and instead depends on simpler-to-monitor electric heaters.
“There is an energy shortage that some refer to as the “invisible version,” in which individuals conserve energy by doing what I do: turning down the heat and skipping the air conditioning. Or individuals stop using their oxygen equipment and don’t get the necessary amount, “explained Uceta.
EITHER WHILE EATING OR BREATHING
Many Spanish people who depend on power are faced with some difficult decisions, according to Nicole Hass, an APEPOC spokesperson: “They must choose between breathing and feeding because of the increase in electricity rates.”
APEPOC wants all COPD patients, regardless of their income, to get energy bill subsidies from Spain’s local governments.
Hass remarked that although electricity is not covered by Spain’s public health service, oxygen is. If we don’t have electricity to plug the machine in, what use is the oxygen?
APEPOC wants Spain to follow in the footsteps of nations like Argentina, which in 2017 made power free for those who depend on it. Electricity retailers in New Zealand are required by law to give discounts to customers who are deemed to be medically dependent.
Spain’s 17 autonomous regions are in charge of setting health policy. The national parliament last year stalled a proposal from the Catalan party Esquerra Republicana to add patients dependent on medical devices to a list of vulnerable consumers who receive assistance with their energy costs.
In response to inquiries from TradingTwist, the health ministry of Catalonia cited a protocol that was authorized by the regional government in 2020 and ensures that no one would have their electricity switched off. The proposal doesn’t include any subsidies to assist patients with large medical expenditures.
Casais previously changed his diet to reduce expenses. He now subsists on tuna cans and one-euro sachets of processed beef. He’s now thinking about remortgaging his condo in order to pay for his energy and medical expenses.
Regardless of their wealth or place of residence, he argued, “They should grant a straight discount on power rates to everyone who is electricity-dependent.”