British expat pensioners across benefit much more from healthcare provided by European governments than expats in the UK gain from the National Health Service.
British expats vastly outnumber their counterparts from the Europe in the UK.
Official figures reveal 145,000 British expat pensioners have signed up for European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) which allow them to have free or discounted treatment across the European Economic Area (EEA).
Meanwhile, 4,000 EEA pensioners registered for the service under the NHS in Britain.
The EHIC system offers healthcare under a reciprocal agreement between governments that allows a foreign health service to bill the NHS for the cost of treating British expats and vice versa.
Will Brexit affect expat medical care?
The agreement between Spain and Britain has the largest disparity – with 70,000 retired British expats eligible for treatment in Spain but only 81 from Spain registered in the UK.
The gap between numbers of retired British expats and those from overseas is also apparent with other countries.
Just 201 French retired expats can access the NHS, while 43,000 Brits can seek health care in France.
The statistics are also similar for Cyprus, where 12,000 British pensioners can claim treatment under an EHIC compared to only two or three Cypriots in the UK.
EHIC treatments cost the UK £674 million a year, while the NHS claims £50 million from EEA health services.
Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s explanation of her Brexit objectives, providing Britain remains a member of the EEA, reciprocal health care arrangements should stay in force.
Cost of private health cover
Leaving the EU should not mean Britain leaves the EEA.
If Britain leaves the EEA, what will happen to EHIC health care would depend on transitional arrangements and any final Brexit agreement.
The cost and availability of medical care is a priority for aging British expats who may suffer ill health.
Private medical insurance is cheaper in Spain than in the UK, but a couple in their early 50s should expect to pay around £60 a month – equivalent to £720 a year.
One of the leading healthcare providers is Sanitas, familiar in the UK as BUPA.
Basic plans start from around £20 a month, but retired expats with existing health problems should expect to pay more and to have some conditions excluded from their policies.