The UK's Health Minister Stephen Hammond released a written statement on Tuesday saying that in the event of a no-deal Brexit the government would cover the health costs of pensioners throughout the EU for up to 12 months.
His announcement will offer some relief to the 180,000 retired Britons who live around the EU and who rely on the NHS to cover their healthcare via reciprocal agreements between EU states.
Those reciprocal agreements would no longer apply for UK nationals if Britain left the EU without a deal on March 29th or at a later date.
The UK has suggested to EU Member states that the current reciprocal arrangements continue up until December 2020 in the event of a no-deal to “minimise disruption.”
“This would mean that we will continue to pay for healthcare costs for current or former UK residents for whom the UK has responsibility who are living or working in or visiting the EU and EFTA states, where individuals are not covered by the EFTA Citizens’ Rights Agreements,” said Hammond.
But that proposal needs agreement from EU states like France where around 40 000 British pensioners live and Spain, which is home to 70,000 retired Brits.
However if those agreements are not made the UK will cover the health costs for a period of 12 months for those who relied on NHS cover via the S1 reciprocal scheme.
Hammond said: “The UK Government has committed to fund healthcare for UK nationals (and others for whom the UK is responsible) who have applied for, or are undergoing, treatments in the EU prior to and on exit day, for up to one year, to protect the most vulnerable.
But Hammond said it would rely on EU member states agreeing to first treat patients and then be reimbursed by the UK.
“The Statutory Instruments introduced on 11 February would also enable some UK residents to recover costs if they are charged.”
“For UK nationals who are visitors, we will refund costs directly. For UK nationals who are resident in another Member State, this commitment requires us to reach an arrangement with individual EU Member States. We are hopeful that they will remain willing to treat patients and accept reimbursement and are in discussions to seek such an agreement.”
The announcement will be welcomed by the tens of thousands of British pensioners in countries like France and Spain who faced uncertainty over whether their health treatment would be covered after Brexit.
Hammond also announced that anyone who is forced to return home to the UK for health reasons will have access to the NHS.
“Should UK nationals face changes in how they can access healthcare, they may use NHS services if they return to live in the UK,” he said.
“As is currently the case, UK nationals living in the EU will have an entitlement to NHS services as soon as they take up ordinary residence in England.
“A British citizen who moves to the UK can be considered ordinarily resident upon arrival if it is clear that they are here to reside on a properly settled basis for the time being. British citizens who return to live in the UK partway through their treatment will be able to access NHS services.”
In his statement the health minister also announced other measures that may offer reassurance to retired Britons in the EU.
- Those who have their healthcare funded by the UK under current EU arrangements and are resident in EU Member States on exit day can use NHS services in England without charge when on a temporary visit to England.
- The Association of British insurers (ABI) has advised that travel insurance policies will cover emergency medical treatment costs as standard that could have been reclaimed through the EHIC, although some routine treatments would not be covered.