Monday, November 07, 2005

Expats Burdening Spain's Health Service

SPAIN has protested about the multi-million-pound cost of providing healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Britons who have moved there.

Spanish authorities face soaring bills for drugs, nursing and home carers for the expatriates. Acute hospital care costs Spain an extra £40m a year.

?We have opened the door to everybody and it needs to be regulated,? said Cristina Gutierrez-Cortines, MEP for Murcia, a favoured destination. ?British officials think everything is fine because their citizens are getting everything free here. It?s not fine. We need action from Europe: we are spending money we are not receiving.?

Elena Salgado, the Spanish health minister, has opened talks in Brussels on obtaining a rebate.
Salgado?s spokesman, Roberto Rodriguez, said Europe?s system of reciprocal health and social welfare cover was inadequate to cope with vast numbers of British, German, Dutch and Scandinavian pensioners retiring in Spain. Many fail to register under the E121 scheme that allows governments within the European Union to reclaim a share of healthcare costs from patients? home countries.

An estimated 1m Britons own properties in Spain, according to a study of healthcare by Age Concern. The Spanish say many assume the system in Spain is similar to the NHS and fail to realise that, in Spain, families help to look after the elderly, supplementing professional care.
?A huge number of them speak little or no Spanish,? said Ana Skou, a spokeswoman for Mijas municipality on the Costa del Sol, where just over half the population of 62,000, are native Spaniards. ?Those who come as pensioners are the least likely to integrate. They fall ill and run into problems.?

Although 225,000 Britons are registered to vote in municipal elections in Spain, only 49,436, have completed the E121 form. The Spanish taxpayer is left out of pocket if any Briton who has not filled in the form needs care.

Ignasi Guardans, a Liberal MEP from Barcelona, said: ?These people are essentially health tourists. There is a huge cost to Spain because they have not been contributing to our health system.?
Britain?s work and pensions department said: ?(We do) everything possible to ensure migrants understand the requirements to register for their healthcare costs to be reimbursed from the UK.?
Age Concern has a network of 200-300 volunteers in five Spanish centres to help 12,000 elderly people, of whom one in eight is classed as an ?acute? case ? suffering from serious mental or physical illness, or destitute.

Jackie Codd, one of the volunteers, said: ?You get people moving here hoping for better care for things like Parkinson?s disease or Alzheimer?s when they are already ill. I had a man complaining to me the other day that no one spoke English at the Alzheimer?s support group his wife was sent to.?

Many expatriate pensioners do not realise housing and council tax subsidies and disability costs are not payable outside the UK. In practice, however, few are denied help in Spain, adding to the burden on the Spanish taxpayer.