How Does The Healthcare System In Spain Compare With The Healthcare System in America?

Thinking of taking the plunge and moving to Spain? Before you move to any country, one of the first things you should consider is what the quality of healthcare is like. Even if you are in great health, accidents and illnesses can and do happen, and it’s important to feel confident that, if and when they do, the healthcare you will be offered is of a high standard.

If you’re an American thinking of moving to Spain then you may be wondering how the Spanish healthcare system compares to the U.S system you’re used to and what its advantages and disadvantages are. Here’s everything you need to know:

Understanding Public and Private Healthcare in Spain

One of the first things to note is that whilst the US health system doesn’t provide universal healthcare for its citizens, and most healthcare is funded privately via insurance or state and federal plans. However, there is a public health system in Spain.

The Spanish public health system is not a universal health system, like the one available in the UK, because you cannot benefit from it unless you have paid into the Spanish social security system. If you have paid into this system, you can access public healthcare for free. What’s more, if you had a genuine medical emergency and needed to access health care in Spain, you would not be refused treatment just because you didn’t have an insurance plan or social security card.

Who Can Access Public Healthcare in Spain?

As well as those who are paying into the Spanish social security system, other citizens who can access the public healthcare system in Spain include pensioners, anyone on social security benefits and the unemployed. If you are pregnant healthcare is free, and all children in Spain have access to the public health system, even if their parents don’t pay into it.

Access to healthcare is seen as a right in Spain, so money doesn’t determine whether people can get the medical treatment they need. However, a huge number of Spanish citizens (more than 11.5 million, according to the latest data), choose not to use the public healthcare system, and instead have private medical insurance.

What Kind of Private Insurance Is Available in Spain?

There are many benefits of opting for private health insurance in Spain. These include having access to shorter waiting times, being able to choose the medical facilities you use and the doctors you see, and having direct access to specialists when you need it.

The two main types of private insurance in Spain are employer or individual. Americans will be familiar with employer health insurance, as most Americans that are employed secure their health insurance through their employer.

In America this insurance doesn’t not always cover everything, and there may still be some co-pays to consider for certain medical treatments. Some employers do offer private healthcare in Spain, but this is comparatively rare.

Much more common is choosing and paying for your own private healthcare. You look at the providers and policies available, and choose the one that works best for you. You can expect to pay around €50 to €200 per month for a private health insurance policy in Spain. However, this may not cover everything that an American policy might: some policies in the U.S will cover treatments such as IVF, for example, whilst this is almost never covered in Spain.

How Much Should You Expect to Spend on Healthcare?

Approximately 17.8% of the United States GDP is spent on healthcare, meaning that the country spends more on healthcare than any other country. My contrast, Spain pays 10% of its GDP on healthcare. This works out as around €2,000 per resident annually.

Whilst some may view the higher spend as a negative, this means that the US is at the forefront of many medical advances, and the cancer treatment available is some of the best in the world. But of course, access to these treatments is dependent on what you can afford.

According to the latest ranking by Radar Healthcare, Spain places fifth in a list of 33 countries with the best medical care and the US doesn’t even make the top 15. This may be because many people in America simply can’t afford healthcare, and because healthcare is optional in the US, so there is no obligation to secure it. 

How Do The Waiting Times Between The US And Spain Differ?

In 2022, the waiting times for a doctor's appointment across 15 American cities was 26 days. This is an increase of 8% compared to 2017, and clearly demonstrates that waiting times in America are increasing.

By contrast, recent date shows that the average waiting time to see a GP in Spain is 8.8 days. This means that you’re likely to see a doctor much more quickly in Spain than in America.

It’s important to note, though, that the wait time to see a specialist in Spain is likely to be longer. An example of this is that if you need to see a dermatologist in Andalusia, then you will be waiting for around three months. The average wait time for the same specialist in the US is 34.5 days.

It’s a similar story if you need a non-urgent surgery. In America the average wait time is 62.3 days, with 95 percent of patients waiting 189 days. However, surgical wait times in Spain only continue to increase. The average wait time for non-urgent surgery is 122 days, and a historical high of 793,521 patients were, as of December 31st, 2022, waiting for surgeries across the Spanish healthcare system.

Are you thinking of moving to Spain with your family? Looking to escape your life in America and make an escape to the sun? Then why not get in touch with our local property experts, who are perfectly placed to help you find the Spanish home of your dreams. We’re excited to help you make your next move your best move!