Retired expats in Spain caught in free heathcare trap

Published:  23 Aug at 6 PM
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Due to recent tough new rules in Spain as well as within the failing British National Health Service, expat retirees are being left with no free heathcare options.

Many elderly UK expats living in Spain are now unable to access Spain’s formerly free heathcare services, and the National Health Service is now refusing to treat returning expat pensioners until they have lived in the UK for at least six months. This is despite the fact that the majority have paid National Insurance during their entire working lives.

Hardest hit are elderly pensioners who’ve opted for early retirement and either considered they would not need or could not afford private health insurance. Until recently, expat medical services were covered unde a reciprocal agreement with the UK in that costs were refunded by the British government on receipt of a signed form confirming national insurance had been paid for three years or more.

The change came on July 1, the date from which the required form was withdrawn, leaving many expats without any options. The scheme will continue for a 30-month period for those who’ve already signed the form pre-July 1, but newly ill expats will be left to cope the best they can, with the NHS taking no responsibility.

During the last several years, the NHS has been refusing to treat returning expats, referring to them as ‘health tourists’. If expat health problems are severe and the Spanish system is now out of bounds, the only recourse for British citizen expats seems to be to move back to the UK, register with a GP and go on a waiting list for diagnosis and treatment.

The NHS’s tough, some say inhuman, new stance has been on the books for some years, but is now being enforces as standard. According to the CEO of a private health insurance company, getting free NHS treatment as an expat is something of a lottery, with a few trusts still willing to cooperate, dependent on treatment, length of stay overseas and the persuasive talents of the applicant.

Given the almost 10 per cent overall increase in private health insurance over the past year, it’s unlikely the average British pensioner living in Spain will have any option but to die quietly.
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