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No-Deal Brexit Could See Expats Lose Free Healthcare

With such uncertainty still surrounding Brexit, it remains difficult for British expats living in the EU to know for sure what the situation will be on Friday 29th March 2019.  Will there be a deal or won’t there? That’s really all any of us want to know.

The situation is extremely concerning for UK citizens who have made EU countries such as Spain and France their home for many years. A number of British expats are pensioners that rely on NHS reimbursements for healthcare treatments – all of which is possible under current EU agreements.

UK Government Update

Based on the lack of progress with negotiations, many believe the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit. In preparation for such a scenario, British government officials are warning British expat pensioners living in EU member states, that losing access to their healthcare payments is a possibility.

However, this possibility largely depends on what arrangements can be negotiated on an individual basis with each EU country.

A statement on the UK government website reported: “Travellers who intend to use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) must check what the arrangement is with the specific country they are visiting as the card may not be valid. This advice also applies to students studying in the EU. If you have an S1 certificate, it will be valid until 29 March 2019. After this date, the certificate may not be valid, depending on decisions by member states.”

Furthermore, the NHS has also expressed that access to healthcare is likely to change for British travellers and working expats in Spain, in the event of a no-deal Brexit situation.

This has come as a huge shock to many expats, who feel they have been led to believe their healthcare would be protected, whatever the scenario.

Expat Brexit Preparations

Understandably, as a result of this statement, the question for many is – will their current EU country of residence keep such arrangements and safeguard their healthcare, in the event of a no-deal Brexit? And should they take out health insurance as a precaution?

Some EU countries continue to reassure their British residents. A UK Embassy representative in Spain clarified that “It is a priority for the UK’s Department of Health, and for the British Embassy in Madrid, to ensure UK nationals living or working in the EU can continue to access the healthcare they need as we exit the EU.” And that they are planning contingency measures to guarantee healthcare provisions to UK nationals living in Spain, if there is no-deal on 29th March.

Further advice to expats living in Spain, calls for individuals to ensure they cover themselves for a no-deal scenario, by registering with Spanish authorities. Those registered in their town hall for more than a year, may be able to access the Convenio Especial ‘pay in’ health insurance scheme.

NHS statements have also urged British tourists travelling during Brexit, to take precautions by purchasing travel insurance, in case of a no-deal.

The government report also stated, “In addition, UK nationals should follow current advice from the government which recommends travellers take out separate travel insurance to cover any healthcare requirements needed in any country within the EU or outside. This is particularly advisable for travellers with a pre-existing or long-term health condition.”

Support for British Expats

Whilst the government has expressed that there are advanced communications for reciprocal agreements with Spain, France and Ireland – what about other EU countries?

Campaigners are on the case and continue to speak out for vulnerable British pensioners settled in the EU. A member of campaign group British in Europe stated, “The government needs to make unilateral pledges to extend the S1 beyond 29 March for all 1 million Britons in all EU states irrespective of the bilateral talks.”

In addition, it’s clear a no-deal scenario with no such reciprocal agreements in place, would see many British expats having no other choice than to return to the UK for treatment.

With the NHS already heavily stretched, might this provide more incentive and pressure for the government to take the necessary action? Historically, the government was even reported to have said “it would be cheaper to pay Spain and France to look after British nationals than have them return home”.

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