British expats living in Spain use their European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) to get free healthcare in Spain—even though the card is designed to be used only for emergency care while tourists holiday in European countries.
In Alicante, 15-20% of all hospital admissions are British expats. Some Britons are looking at the Spanish hospitals and the British hospitals and choosing where they think they will receive the best, or quickest treatment and either going back to Britain or turning up at the Spanish hospitals with their Ehic.
If a patient turns up at a Spanish hospital or clinic, the doctor only has the patient’s word that the situation is an emergency and must treat accordingly. But Spanish politicians have had enough. Pressure is being applied to the SiMAP union, which represents public health doctors in Spain, to start tightening the budget even further, in order to restrict the expat freeloaders. Spanish doctors worry that this will restrict availability of resources (doctors, nurses and other staff as well as open treatment centres) and that this will have a negative impact on Spanish nationals as well as any legitimate emergencies among the expat and tourist groups.
The Spanish regions have begun to take measures to restrict the freeloaders. In Valencia expats below retirement age that are not registered as employed in Spain will no longer receive free healthcare.
Anecdotal evidence suggests there are thousands of male and female expats under the age of 65 working unregistered in Spain. Will Britain see a return of these expats now that their source of free healthcare in the sun has disappeared?