On Monday morning, the British embassy in Rome released an announcement that caused further anxiety among the many British citizens living in Italy who are already uncertain about how or even whether their healthcare costs will be covered after a no-deal Brexit
The “Get ready for Brexit” campaign press release and official posters stated that: “As you will be aware the UK is leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 October, whatever the circumstances” before going on to instruct all British citizens resident in Italy to take the following four “priority actions” before the end of the month:
1. Register for residency with the local anagrafe before the 31 October
2. Check your access to healthcare
3. Check your passport is valid for travel
While this information isn't new – British citizens living in Italy have long been advised to take these measures as a precaution – the vague point about healthcare caused some concern.
What exactly does “check your access” mean?
“Does anyone know what we should check exactly?” one commenter asked on Facebook on Tuesday after reading the notice. “Does this mean we're losing our right to healthcare?”
The UK government's website provides more information, although it isn't particularly reassuring.
“If there’s no deal, your access to healthcare may change,” the website states. “You must confirm your residency status and decide how you will ensure access to healthcare.”
So what's going to happen if there's no deal?
The website goes on to explain that legal residents in Italy who pay into the public healthcare system “will be covered” in the event of no deal – if an expected agreement is formalised with Italy.
“The Italian no-deal legislation also includes a commitment to continue social security coordination and access to healthcare until 31 December 2020. This includes S1 holders and students.”
“If there’s no deal, and you are a legal resident in Italy on or before 31 October and you pay into the public health care system, through employment or voluntary contributions, you will be covered by Italian no-deal legislation which ensures continued access to healthcare,” it states.
However, this “still requires a formal agreement between the UK and Italian governments.”
The UK government writes that guidance will be updated “when more information becomes available.”
For now, it says, “you should consider registering with the public healthcare system or obtaining private health insurance.”
The short answer, then, is still that no one really knows.
Do we need private health insurance?
According to campaigners, British nationals resident in Italy don't “need go to the expense of private health insurance at this stage.”
After speaking to the British Embassy on September 26th, campaigners from British in Italy wrote in a Facebook post that: “you, as UKinItaly, ie: a UK national resident in Italy, do not need to take any specific steps to safeguard your healthcare at this stage (other than to register as resident and with the ASL if you have not already done so.”
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What if I'm a retired UK national living in Italy?
Retired British citizens living in Italy reacted angrily to news last month that they will face losing access to healthcare six months after the date of Brexit.
Britain's health secretary Matt Hancock announced in September that health costs for UK pensioners living in the EU and those with disabilities would be covered for six months if Britain leaves the bloc on October 31st without a deal – which is six months less than the government originally promised in March.
This would affect some 180,000 UK citizens living in the EU who currently have healthcare paid for by the UK under the European S1 scheme.
Tourists who begin their trips to the EU before Brexit and students who began their courses before October would have their health costs covered in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government said.