By Adrian Bishop 

The UK is taking steps to continue the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) Scheme benefits after Brexit.

New bill to protect expat healthcare in EU

The UK government is proposing a bill to protect the healthcare of British expats, students and visitors to Europe after the UK leaves the EU on 29th March 2019.

Plans to help 190,000 expats and 50 million travellers

The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill aims to clear the way to help 190,000 expats and 50 million travellers each year to Europe obtain healthcare.

The bill also aims to secure continued healthcare support for UK nationals in the EU, EEA and Switzerland after Brexit.

Legal powers to fund reciprocal healthcare

It will provide the UK government with legal powers to fund and implement reciprocal healthcare schemes and share necessary data after Brexit.

EHIC scheme set to continue

The bill, introduced by Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, is progressing to its second reading, and will establish the basis for a new arrangement allowing the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme to continue after 2020, subject to an agreement with the EU.

What are the benefits?

Under reciprocal healthcare arrangements, benefits include:

  • Reducing the cost of insurance
  • Making travel more viable for older people and high-risk groups
  • Providing a boost to the travel economy.

Access to free healthcare abroad

The EHIC scheme grants UK nationals access to free healthcare abroad and pays for 250,000 medical treatments each year.

Benefits to Brits in Europe

For the 190,000 expat state pensioners who have chosen to live in the EU and those intending to retire to the EU, it will help by safeguarding reciprocal healthcare if there is no EU deal.

Bill lets EU citizens ‘travel with confidence’

Lord James O’Shaughnessy says, “Whether on holiday, working or retiring abroad, British people want to know they can access the same high-quality healthcare that they enjoy in the NHS.

“This Bill will allow us to implement new healthcare arrangements with other countries – in the EU and elsewhere – so that UK citizens can travel with confidence.”

Patient and medical staff

Healthcare abroad

Health Minister, Stephen Barclay, says that the bill “will provide the Government with the powers that are needed to fund and effectively implement arrangements for UK nationals to obtain healthcare abroad after the UK exits the European Union."

“Current EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements enable UK nationals to access healthcare when they live, study, work, or travel abroad and visa-versa for EU citizens when in the UK. They give people more life options, support tourism and businesses, and healthcare cooperation. The UK also has a number of reciprocal healthcare agreements with non-EU and EEA countries, such as Australia and New Zealand."

Preparations for the UK leaving the EU

“These arrangements ensure that UK nationals living and working in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland can access healthcare in exchange for paying taxes and social security contributions. The UK also funds healthcare abroad for a number of current or former UK residents. This includes healthcare for UK state pensioners who spend their retirement in the EU and needs arising healthcare when UK residents visit the EU for holiday or study through the European Healthcare Insurance Card (EHIC) Scheme."

“The Bill is part of the Government’s preparations for EU Exit and will ensure that whatever the outcome of EU Exit, the Government can take the necessary steps to continue reciprocal healthcare arrangements or otherwise support UK residents to obtain healthcare when they move to or visit the EU.”

New legislation needed after Brexit

Presently, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has limited domestic powers to fund and arrange healthcare outside of the UK. When the UK leaves the EU the current EU regulations will no longer be part of UK law and new legislation will be needed, he explains.

What the bill does

This Bill confers powers on the Secretary of State to make, and arrange for payments to be made, in respect of the cost of healthcare provided outside the UK. This would allow for the funding of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU, EEA and Switzerland.

It also allows the Secretary of State to make regulations for and in connection with the provision of healthcare abroad and to give effect to healthcare agreements with other countries or territories (both EU and non-EU) or supranational bodies such as the EU.

Finally, the Bill provides for the lawful processing of data where necessary for purposes of implementing, operating or facilitating the operation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements or payments.

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