British nationals who have retired to EU countries including Spain and France will no longer have their healthcare covered by the NHS in the event of no deal, the government has confirmed.
The warning will come as a blow to around 190,000 British citizens retired in the EU in the Spanish Costas, Provence in France and Tuscany in Italy, all popular with British pensioners.
It could also add to the burden on the NHS if pensioners believe they have no option but to return to the UK as the government has previously admitted it is cheaper to pay Spain and France to look after Britons’ medical bills than have them fly home.
Currently pensioners can get treatment reimbursed by the NHS under an EU-wide body of reciprocal arrangements.
le of how those advocating ‘no deal’ are playing with the lives of British citizens living in other EU countries,” said Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer and freedom of movement campaigner. “Many of these politicians and pundits probably haven’t bothered to find out how their policies would actually affect such people.”
For many the alternative may be to return to the UK, something the government has said in the past will cost the British taxpayer more in NHS expenditure because of the savings in cheaper health systems around Europe.
Pensioners who have paid into the national insurance system for the qualifying number of years currently benefit from the “S1” reciprocal health care rules if they retire in the EU, EEA countries or Switzerland.
“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 stated in a little-publicised no-deal technical notice published this week.
The government says it is seeking bilateral deals with other EU countries on the continuation of healthcare but so far none have been arranged.
The notice advises retirees to investigate taking up private healthcare in the country they now reside, something that is likely to be come as shock to pensioners, especially in the Costa del Sol in Spain, where many have retired in order to make ends meet.
One 83-year-old pensioner in Spain, concerned that his healthcare was put at risk by the referendum, has said previously: “It is the skint ones who are at risk”.
The government has suggested worried pensioners research the state healthcare system in thecountry they now live and find out if they are eligible for treatment. But it warned that British citizens may not be able to get free treatment unless they have paid social security contributions.
The government has admitted that treating British citizens in Spain is cheaper than having them return to the UK.
There are 70,000 British pensioners in Spain, with another 44,000 in Ireland, 43,000 in France and 12,000 in Cyprus.
A senior civil servant in the Department of Health told a select committee in 2017 that “one of the advantages of the current arrangements was that it was cheaper for the government to reimburse Spain for treatment of pensioners there than have them return to the NHS for care”.
Spain charges an average of €3,500 per pensioner signed up to the S1, Ireland charges an average of €7,500 and the UK charges about €5,000, he said.
In total, the government paid out around £500m – or £2,300 per pensioner – which he pointed out “was significantly lower than the cost of treating pensioners in the UK”.