What with the B word, and the C word, most of us, probably all of us, have had enough of 2020 already. A combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has put the chances of confidently predicting the near future in much doubt, but the one thing we know for sure is that we have to prioritise our health, how we care for it, who we trust to deliver that care, and know for sure that we have the right to access services.
For the Brits living in Spain there is miscommunication, and rumours about how they will be able to access health care after 2020 has finally drawn to a close. You may have noticed a panicked frenzy of applications for TIE cards (the new residency document for British people living in Spain), but you may not understand why. Should I be panicking too? Is also a question perhaps you should be asking yourself. No, on no account should you panic, but do you know your rights?
Are you ready for the end of the transition period, the UK has ceased to belong to the European Union and the transitional period finishes on December 31st 2020. What will actually change for you? If you are a person from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland you are a resident with a green card with a date of permanency on the card nothing will change for you, your rights in Spain are unchanged. If you are not a resident, or you haven’t applied for your TIE card then you have some work to do.
You might assume that every Brit living in Majorca has already got that magic piece of paper entitling them to live on the island, enjoying access to state health care and services. You would be wrong says Kate Mentink, previously a councillor for Calvia and a director in the European Centre in Palma for the regional government. “At the last count there were just over 15,000 people registered a couple of months ago, but we know that there are about 60,000 living in Majorca, so all of the rest do not have a residencia, so they have no access to the public health services, they are, for all intents and purposes, tourists”. Kate, who has been attending information meetings organised by the British consulate for Spain tells me of how a high ranking diplomat pulled out his British passport from his pocket, waved it at the room and said, “Remember everybody, this is a travel document, it allows you to travel around the world, it does not give you any other rights”.
Kate goes on to say, “From our research, the average Brit who isn’t a tax payer in Spain and isn’t registered as a resident, has been relying on the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), but from the end of the year, only pensioners, students or what they are describing as “frontier workers” will be able to qualify for an EHIC card. We know that Boris Johnson and the current government do not want to continue with the EHIC as it has stood as the general indication being that he would reciprocate for Spanish people in the UK. The EHIC should stand until the end of the year, and then a lot of people are going to be without health care, they won’t have a right to it here, and they need to get themselves informed and ready for that. Visitors coming to Spain will need to have travel insurance that covers them for any kind of health care on the island”.
Kate is not alone in her prediction, a British government backed initiative, Support In Spain, has been busily collecting the contact information of different voluntary groups and Spanish statutory authorities available locally, as well as helpful advice on common questions, such as how to secure extra social care, help for a disability or assistance with paperwork in Spanish. Listing charities, such as the Cancer Support Group and Age Concern, the website www.supportinspain.info is aiming to be a “Guide for British nationals over 50, and other foreign residents in Spain who may need help and advice”. A labour of love for its founder Neil Hesketh in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the website currently lists the support services for the Costa del Sol, Almeria, the Canaries and now the Balearics. It is also being extended to other areas with high numbers of British residents in the next few months, including Cataluña, Costa Blanca and Murcia. It has had over 60,000 visitors since it was launched. The demand is certainly there.
Neil, the creator of the project, said: “The website is in Spanish, as well as English, so that social workers, medical staff and Spanish-speaking friends can, for the first time, access information on English-speaking support available.” The site contains useful information on how to get extra support and help on a wide range of topics, such as healthcare, disability services and benefits, as well as providing a directory of local support organisations.
British Consul General Lloyd Milen said: “There is some incredible work carried out by so many volunteers across the islands to support foreign residents who are in need. This website will be a valuable tool to support voluntary groups in their work and for residents as well. It is always useful to plan ahead for the future. Many of us have seen our or our friends’ personal circumstances change and this website is a really good way to check up on the help that’s available.”
The impending issues for English speaking people who live in Spain has meant that solutions and plans are emerging. ASISA, well known across Spain as the country’s most popular health insurance company has launched a new service entirely in English, the first of its kind in Spain. The company was founded in the early seventies in Spain by doctors who were being approached by private health insurance companies to work with them. The cooperative of doctors decided to launch their own health insurance with a doctor/patient focus. “We feel that everyone has a right to access the best healthcare. As a cooperative of doctors, we are duty bound to ensure that all members of our community have the opportunity to have the best healthcare. British citizens have been valued members of our community for many years.
ASISA will stand by them, before and after Brexit”, said Jaime Ortiz Olmeda, a Senior Executive at ASISA and one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “The health insurance will come with an affordable price tag and a comprehensive cover for anyone who is living in or visiting Spain. We have established a call centre with English speaking operators for help with appointments, medical emergencies and queries. We have created a new website, www.asisacaresforyou.com where all the information is in English. This new insurance policy is open to anyone regardless of where they normally live.” Asisa Insurance is accepted globally, and by all of the hospitals in Majorca for example.
This news has been welcomed by many community organisations and their leaders. “As more and more people begin to realise the vulnerable position they will find themselves in,” says Kate Mentink, “I am relieved to see that ASISA is ready to support without taking financial advantage of vulnerable people.”
The British living in or visiting Majorca and Spain are not be able to foresee the future but at least thanks to the actions of concerned citizens, the British Government, Support In Spain and ASISA these people do have the chance to create a safety net for themselves and ensure long term protection for their health.