For the 800,000 expats who currently reside in Spain, the months since the announcement of Brexit have been troubled with uncertainty over what the future may now hold. While it seems likely that the free movement of people will be prioritized in the upcoming negotiations, questions about access to healthcare services still remain at the forefront of the debate. This issue remains particularly relevant to the large number of pensioners who have chosen to relocate.
As the situation currently stands, pre Article 50, British expats in Spain currently enjoy access to free healthcare with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or receive a State pension while residing within the European Economic Community (EEC).
However, the current deal will end the moment that Britain withdraws from the EU and separate negotiations will have to be made with each separate member state. Many of the expats, particularly the retirees, just can’t afford to pay out for expensive health care plans; and if a beneficial deal fails to be reached, this may force many to return home.
UK needs to foot the bill
There was some relief for expats, however, when the British Embassy in Madrid recently released a statement announcing their intentions to work out the “best possible outcome for the British people”. The Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, has also clarified that Spain would work to forge a new deal with the UK in terms of healthcare – so current expats who reside in Spain continue to have access to the same healthcare benefits – but that the UK should pay for it. The UK had previous deals in place before it was a part of the EEC, so it is likely that a similar health agreement will be negotiated before the UK severs all ties with the EU. The amount this may end up costing the British government, however, is still uncertain.
While it remains clear that a great deal still needs to be negotiated in the Brexit aftermath, luckily for expats the British and Spanish governments both seem keen to work together to reach a compromise, one that benefits everyone. Given that such a large proportion of British expats live in Spain and contribute greatly to the Spanish economy, it inevitably would suit both nations to reach an agreement that changes the current status quo as little as possible, even if that means someone else is footing the bill.