Hopes dwindle over continuing healthcare for UK expats

Published:  4 May at 6 PM
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Predicting any Brexit outcome this early in the game is impossible, but UK negotiator David Davis is already indicating the European Health Card as it applies to Brit expats won’t survive the divorce negotiations.

Until now, the EHIC has been a literal lifeline for older Brits living in the warmer climes of Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. Many thousands of British pensioners chose to leave the UK in order to be able to stretch their state pension further, secure in the knowledge that their NHS contributions over a lifetime’s work entitled them to reciprocal healthcare.

Davis’s recent statement to the House of Commons that no economic assessment of a hard Brexit impact has yet been made is more than troubling, especially to the 1.3 million Brits living in the EU. According to a United Nations report, Spain is home to the EU’s largest British expatriate community at 319,000, with the country’s government one of the most likely to refuse to pick up the expat healthcare tab.

Even before the Brexit referendum, a UK government white paper stated Brits living overseas should not expect protection of their rights to public services. On the positive side, it’s unlikely EU member states will risk losing the NHS healthcare services being provided to their citizens in the UK. Ever-present fears of deportation from EU member states may well be unfounded due to the machinations of European politics, taking into account the treatment of the estimated three million EU citizens living and working in Britain.

One point now being made is that expulsion of large numbers of residents from any developed economy would scare off foreign investors and cause economic chaos. However, continued provision of healthcare is another matter, with Davis already stating during a parliamentary hearing that expats will need to take on private health insurance.

Another issue discussed during the hearing concerned immediate access to the NHS for post-Brexit returning expats, especially the 33 per cent of the total of Brit expats in Spain who are over the retirement age and subject to existing conditions, thus making it impossible for them to afford private health insurance. Many are effectively trapped in Spain due to the fall in house prices as well as the near-collapse of the expat housing market.
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