British pensioners could be about to lose free healthcare under new Spanish rules
THOUSANDS of British expatriates will be forced to foot the bill for medical treatment after authorities announced plans to remove their right to free healthcare.
The provincial authorities in Valencia are changing the law because they claim elderly people who have set up homes in the region are placing too high a burden on the health system.
The move has prompted fury in the expatriate community on the Mediterranean coast.
The group feels it is being victimised by the Spanish, following years of clashes with authorities over the country’s planning laws.
Many people retire to Spain believing they will be covered by the country’s medical system.
Now they will be forced to take out expensive private insurance.
Bob Houliston, 71, a retired diplomat who is now president of the Claro political party, which represents the 20,000 expat residents of the Orihuela area near Alicante, said the move could have “serious consequences”.
“The timing of this decision could not have been worse,” he said. “Now is not the time to cause individual hardship and widespread uncertainty.
“It can only add to the image problems the region has to contend with.”
He insisted that the UK must now find a compromise with the Valencian authorities.
In 2002 the provincial government offered free healthcare to all expatriates of all EU nationalities in a bid to get foreign investment in the area’s property market, which at that time was booming.
The market is now experiencing a similar downturn to that being seen in the UK.
The ruling only applies to people who took early retirement and moved to Spain, mainly aged in their fifties.
Older retirees and individuals on long-term incapacity benefit are unaffected, as they are covered under a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK.
A spokesman for the regional health ministry said: “It is costing us an extra €1bn annually to look after a million new residents as well as long-stay tourists, and our services are at saturation point.
“Some come to Spain to have their heart operation or hip replacement here at a better standard and more quickly than in their own country.”
The expatriates however, hope to fight the ruling. In France last year, expatriates successfully had a similar plan partially overturned, so it now only applies to new arrivals.