Expatica news

Many British retirees lose free healthcare in ‘no deal’ Brexit

brexitLenBritish nationals who moved to retire in EU countries, including France and Spain, will have no local healthcare cover in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Pensioners currently receive local treatment reimbursed by the NHS under EU reciprocal arrangements.

The UK’s Department of Health says the government pays out about £500m a year for 190,000 EU based retired Britons, around £2,300 per pensioner.

While admitting that paying this amount each year was far cheaper than treating an equivalent number in the UK, the end of healthcare agreements will hit pensioners in popular retirement areas including Spain, France and Italy.

Should these pensioners opt to return for treatment in the UK, assuming they still qualify, this would add to the pressure on an already overstretched NHS.

UK pensioners who have paid in to the national insurance system for the qualifying number of years can benefit from the ‘S1’ reciprocal healthcare rules if they retire in EU/EEA countries or Switzerland, writes the Guardian today.

In a ‘no-deal’ technical notice slipped out quietly this week, the UK government said, “An S1 certificate helps you and your dependents access healthcare in the EU/EEA country where you live. 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.”

The government advises those who are considering moving to another country within the EEA or Switzerland that their S1 application will only be processed if they apply, “in the next four weeks.”

In Portugal, once Britons register as resident, they are entitled to state healthcare. British retirees are advised to enrol at their local health centre and get a user’s ID number by showing their residence certificate.

Sue Wilson, chair of the ‘Bremain in Spain’ campaign group, said the change could be devastating. “All along we’ve been told our healthcare is protected. This is a big shock to everyone and our members are really, really scared.”

The Spanish and UK governments said they were confident a bilateral agreement would be in place despite the no-deal with the Department of Health stating it was “working closely with countries, including Spain and France, to make sure patients can continue to access healthcare, whatever the outcome.”

Spain’s Brexit advice helpline mentions “contingency measures” that would “guarantee healthcare provision for British citizens in Spain” in the event of no deal and advises taking out private insurance, a non-started for many British retirees who moved abroad due to economic pressure.

The UK government has unhelpfully suggested that its overseas pensioners see if the local state healthcare system considers them eligible for treatment.