Scandal of NHS charges for British expat pensioners living overseas

Published:  15 May at 6 PM
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British expats living across the world can be confused as to their entitlement to free NHS healthcare should they need to return to the UK.

For British citizens who’ve decided to retire overseas after paying social security dues all their working lives, the use of the UK’s free NHS healthcare whilst living in another country as an expat has been controversial for some years. Up until recently, the law stating the NHS is a residence-based service was mostly ignored, especially for UK expats who’d returned to the UK specifically for a standard of service unable to be had in their countries of residence. In addition, expats living outside the UK on their ungenerous UK state pensions and unable to afford expensive private treatment often returned to the UK for treatment after finding they were not entitled to free care in their new home countries.

Several years ago, a crackdown on UK expats arriving from overseas for free NHS care was introduced, with hospital administrators prowling emergency rooms looking for elderly, sick expats who’d come home for treatment as an alternative to dying overseas due to lack of medical expertise and money. Almost all had paid into British social security through the National Insurance scheme, and were horrified to hear they would have to pay full costs. For a time, expats who’d been living outside the UK for less than 10 full years were allowed free treatment, but many were turned away as they weren’t aware of this rule.

Nowadays, British expats returning to Britain for hospital treatment are placed in the same category as visitors. Rules differ according to the nationality of the patient, with multi-national holders of the European Health Insurance Card arriving from EEA countries or Switzerland being allowed free treatment, as are British state pensioners registered for healthcare in Europe. Former UK citizen residents living outside the EEA and EU are not entitled to free NHS healthcare unless they have been granted special exemptions. In addition, expat Britons without private healthcare insurance must pay 150 per cent of the NHS’s tariff for any treatment they receive.

With Brexit still looming, should the UK leave the EU bloc, resulting in retired Britons living in Europe losing entitlement to the EHI card, it’s still unclear after three years’ wrangling how this will affect their present entitlement to free NHS healthcare. Given the lack of concern displayed by the UK government as regards its citizens who choose to live overseas, the result may be a massive influx of relocating British pensioners resulting in the near collapse of the at present underfunded and understaffed NHS.
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