In a move to maintain current clinical practice, the government is looking into offering British tourists subsidised post-Brexit healthcare. This is in an effort to retain their custom in the Algarve, Lisbon and beyond.
It is one of a handful of measures being deliberated by politician in hopes of minimising the disruption of Brexit to the local economy. Rita Marques, Minister for Tourism, said the government was examining a unilateral offer to ensure cover offered by the European health insurance card (Ehic) can continue if a deal is not struck on it during this year’s trade talks.
Ms. Marques explained: “The Portuguese and the UK are the oldest allies in the world and no matter what happens the Portuguese will stand by the British. The British tourist is very important to us.
“We are looking to guarantee this health cover next year. We are currently looking at how often it is used and if it is making a positive impact. We are in the process of testing this and the other ideas right now. If these are issues that are important to the British tourist, then we have to go for it. We are trying to minimise the disruption to British tourism,” she added.
Approximately 2 million brits holiday in Portugal on an annual basis, with recent figures showing that the Algarve is the number 1 destination throughout the country, with 1.2 million British tourists visiting the region in 2019.
Among the other measures politicians are considering are dedicated passport lanes for British visitors, special arrangements to continue to recognise British driving licences, and easy entry for British pets.
Ms. Marques explained how the healthcare change would work, stating that: “The idea is you would pay the same as a Portuguese person, which is a small tax to see the GP or to visit a hospital,” adding that it would involve agreements with both state and private hospitals.
This co-payment would apply to British tourists in Portugal where it costs between €14 and €18 for emergency medical service, and between €9 and €45 for a consultation with a GP or health centre.
The Ehic’s purpose is that it grants EU citizens access to free or reduced-cost healthcare while on holiday in the EU and the European Economic Area. It currently pays for 250,000 medical treatments for British tourists each year, according to a House of Commons research briefing.
However, unless a deal is struck to continue with the Ehic system, the cover for Britons will disappear on the 1st January 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends. Continuing with the health card may be a price worth paying to keep British tourists, who contribute €3bn – or about 1.5% – to the overall Portuguese economy.