The facts about Brexit effects on the European Health Insurance Card

Published:  6 Jun at 6 PM
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A major Brexit concern for British expats living in European Union member states has been the security of reciprocal health care should the UK leave the EU.

Travellers around Europe as well as British expats took to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in a big way as it guaranteed heathcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries. Its welcome provision of essential heathcare in the host country did away with the need for comprehensive health-related travel insurance as well as the problems of dealing with recalcitrant health insurance companies in the case of an emergency.

The EHIC actually covers temporary stays in the host country and is being used by some 27 million EU citizens including retirees living in popular European destinations, all of whom are treated as residents of whichever country they are in. Treatment either comes with reduced charges or for free, dependent on the state healthcare system, and the patient’s home nation is liable for all costs.

The possible exclusion from the EHIC in the event of a Brexit is a major concern for British expats living in EU countries, as the scheme itself might no longer be available to them. The majority are older and often unable to afford the ever-increasing cost of private medical insurance.

However, it should be remember that the EHIC is an EEA, not an EU initiative, with its availability to Britons dependent on whether ties to the EEA as well as the EU are broken by a Brexit. Precedents for acceptance of the EHIC by non-EU member states Iceland and Norway do exist, leaving a possibility the UK could arrange something similar.

Against this encouraging possibility is the fact that, should free movement into the UK be ended, ties with the EEA might also be lost. Like the EU, the EEA allows free movement, but the Leave campaign’s insistence on stricter border and immigration controls might result in having to leave the EEA as well.

In that case, for UK citizens the EHIC would no longer be an option, with hundreds of thousands of British expats in Europe forced to choose between buying health insurance and returning to the UK.
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