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Changes are afoot in the National Health Service which could impact the healthcare on offer to visitors to the UK. Somewhat surprisingly the same policy could rule out free medical care for British expat currently living overseas – even if they have spent years paying into the UK healthcare system.
The Department of Health claims that historically visitors to the UK have been free to use many NHS services, but that foreign visitors currently cost the NHS £1.8 billion a year with very few of these costs recoverable.
It has been claimed that Britain is becoming an ever more popular “medical tourism” destination as visitors arrive here in order to have important work completed for free on the NHS, even in cases where they haven’t paid into the British system.
In order to establish “fairer” rules – and save an estimated £280 million a year – the Conservative government is considering the introduction of new policies enforcing fees on overseas visitors making use of the NHS services for anything other than emergency treatment.
Quite how the rules will affect British expats will depend on your current country of residence. Expats living within Europe will still be able to gain free healthcare from the NHS on the production of an EHIC card, though this must be issued by their country of residence.
However visitors from countries which have no reciprocal arrangement with the UK – such as the USA – will likely find themselves the recipient of the full bill for their treatment. In addition, it has suggested that a 50% premium will be added to these fees, meaning that Britain could quickly become a very expensive destination for medical tourism.
The news could be particularly unwelcome for retirees who, having worked their whole lives in the UK, have finally retired to the sun abroad. Having paid taxes in the UK for decades many rightfully claim they should still have access to free NHS healthcare, just like their friends who have remained at home.
It should be stated that while this news sounds overly negative for many expats, the aim is to make the NHS not only fairer but also to save on “unnecessary” costs. By financially excluding many people native Brits should find the NHS under less pressure, which can only be a positive thing for those people currently paying for the NHS through taxation.
The government claims these new steps will keep the NHS “sustainable”.
The important point to note here is that expatriate health insurance should now be considered more important than ever before. Now that the British government have begun to close these loopholes, a fully-featured package will allow those living overseas to gain access to the medical care they seek in their primary country of residence.
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