Needless to say I wrote and scheduled the following article before the UK voted in the EU referendum. Based on today’s result, logic tells me there won´t be an immediate change but who knows what the future will bring. As a committed European I am just grateful for what I have had from a country I feel is my real home and hope it continues.
I recently had to go for a blood test at my local health centre in Arona. It felt quite bizarre as dozens of people arrived promptly at 8.15am lined up in the waiting room and then took turns visiting a conveyor belt of medics who took samples, jabbed needles and labelled test tubes. In hindsight it was an efficient way to get through the process, meaning those who had to get to work would lose as little time as possible and the rest of us could just amble along at our own speed.
I have to say that as a pensioner I do find the health service in Tenerife far better than anything I experienced in the UK. No! That is not seeing things through rose tinted glasses, it is speaking from personal experience, and what I have seen so far has been excellent and long may it continue.
Of course, it helps being a pensioner as I have free access to Spanish healthcare due to a reciprocal agreement with the UK – I paid my dues and I’m now reaping the benefits from a service that is regularly rated among the world’s best. According to 2012 statistics, Spain ranked 6th in the EU for the number of doctors around four per 1,000 people.
I have never had private health insurance, as up to six months ago, I was disgustingly healthy, although I do know that both private and public healthcare is on offer with some hospitals and health centres offering both. From what I can see the only benefit to pensioners of having private health insurance is to get faster treatment in a non-emergency situation otherwise, you will be well looked after when you need it.
As an expat, you are entitled to free state healthcare if you are:
- resident in Spain and are working or self-employment and pay social security contributions,
- a state pensioner, or
- staying temporarily in Spain and have an EHIC card (see below).
There are other statuses that will get you free healthcare but being a pensioner is the only one I can speak of with any knowledge.
Now I didn´t know this, and have fortunately not had a need to use it, but if you have been registered on the padrón at your town hall for a year, the Spanish government has a state insurance scheme (convenio especial) with a basic monthly fee. The authorities in each autonomous region administer this.
How to register for Spain’s public health care
First, you must register with social security (Dirección General de la Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social), to get a social security number. You’ll need to show your passport or ID card, residency certificate and a completed application form. You’ll also need to have registered your details at your town hall.
Once you have registered you’ll be given a certificate stating that you are entitled to medical help. You then take this with your passport and NIE number to your local health centre to register with a doctor and get a Sistema de Informacion Poblacional or SIP card. At some point in the future this will be sent to you in the post (mine took a couple of years and then like buses two arrived together) but until you get your official card you just produce your certificate to show your entitlement. You’ll also need to show it every time you visit a clinic, hospital or collect a prescription from a farmacia.
Going to the doctor
The health centre will probably have several doctors although I have seen the same doctor on each visit. You can make an appointment online, choosing a date and time that are convenient and you have the right to be accompanied by a friend during consultations, particularly should you need someone to translate.
Going to see a specialist
If you are in the public system and want to be seen by a specialist, you’ll need to be referred by your doctor.
In an emergency, you can go straight to a hospital A&E however, if you want any other type of hospital treatment, you’ll need a referral from your doctor.
You have to pay a percentage of the cost of prescription medicines, which is non-refundable. For state pensioners this is 10%.
In an emergency
In a serious emergency, call 112 free of charge from any mobile or landline. The Spanish word for A&E urgencias.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
If you have an EHIC card and you are on a holiday and are not a Spanish resident you can use your EHIC to get any necessary treatment that cannot wait until you return home through the state system at a reduced cost or free.
Dental treatment is not covered by the state healthcare system so this must be paid for at the time of treatment unless it is included in your private health insurance.