British expat pensioners more reliant on reciprocal EEA health agreements

New figures show that thousands more expat British pensioners are registered to reciprocal health agreements than European pensioners who live in the UK.

The figures, which were obtained following a BBC Freedom of Information request, show that across the European Economic Area (EEA) there are 145,000 UK expat pensioners currently still registered to the NHS in addition to their adopted home country’s health system. However, there are only 4,000 EEA pensioners registered to use the NHS.

The figures show that there are some major disparities between countries. For example, over 70,000 retired Brits are registered as eligible to use Spain’s health system. Meanwhile, only 81 Spanish pensioners are registered as covered by the NHS.

Likewise, approximately 43,000 British pensioners were registered to use the French health service, compared to only 201 French pensioners who are registered as covered by the NHS.

Of course, this figure can be partly explained by the fact that more British pensioners are likely to retire to Spain and France, than those coming the other way.

Nevertheless, Britain paid £674.4 million to other EEA countries to cover expat British citizens’ health costs in the 2014-2015 financial year. In the same year, it claimed back just £49.7 million to pay for EEA citizens’ treatment in the UK.

The upcoming Brexit could put an end to reciprocal health agreements between Britain and other European Union countries. Theoretically, it may become mandatory for British expats and European expats settling in the UK to take out private health insurance in the country they settle in. An outcome that would likely prove to be particularly costly for elderly retirees.

However, some non-EU countries, like Switzerland, have negotiated access to EEA reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Most political experts believe that some form of reciprocal health agreement will be maintained.

Article published 17th January 2017