Healthcare costs abroad keep expats home

Quality and cost of healthcare were two of the reasons retirees cite most for remaining in the UK; click to enlarge.

When it comes to retiring overseas, cost is king. Usually we think of this in terms of pensions, but it’s also true of healthcare.

According to a new report from the Runnymede Trust, British retirees cite cost and quality of healthcare as two main barriers to expatriation. After all, at home these would-be expats are accustomed to free healthcare of a relatively high standard.

While those moving to another EU country can be reasonably sure of obtaining quality care, it’s a different story in other countries. In places like the Caribbean retired expats face an unappealing choice between weak public health systems and expensive private insurance. Overall, 50% of people interviewed by Runnymede cited quality of healthcare as a reason for remaining in the UK, another 43% cost of healthcare.

One interviewee, named Esther, told the authors:

[Cost] would be a thing that would put me off dramatically, not having a health service because, I mean I’m old now, and with a bit of luck I’ll get older, things will go wrong [in terms of health], and if I have to pay for it and I lived abroad, even if everything else was cheaper, but nevertheless I wouldn’t have calculated for paying for a health service, it would be terribly important.

One suggestion the report offered was to provide retirees with benefits packages rather than simple pensions. Another was to increase access to free NHS care, allowing people who have retired overseas to continue to access the service for free (they would need a minimum 30 years of residency to qualify).

These measures would provide expats with at least the minimum standard of care they would receive for free if they moved to another European country. Observed the report:

This is to improve the situation where people who have been ‘good citizens’ and actively contributed economically and socially to Britain are unable to benefit from having done so when they need it most in older age. This would particularly benefit those born outside of Europe, who want to return at retirement but may face the prospect of much more costly and lower-quality care overseas.

It said amended policies would be expensive in the short term, but might eventually be offset as growing numbers of elderly people move abroad. This in turn would ease the cost burden on social services at home.

We’re not so sure the savings argument holds water. In fairness though Runnymede didn’t ask the government to implement these policies immediately, rather to study their feasibility.

Regardless, we agree the British government needs to do a better job of providing retirees with information on the healthcare implications of moving abroad. At the least, an easy-to-navigate list or database of which countries use what kind of health systems and a general assessment of their quality.