The UK government could just do the right thing and commit to funding healthcare for 180,000 pensioners, disabled people, students and posted workers living in the EU27 indefinitely. But it won’t, Laura Shields writes.

First published in September 2019.

The British Government has said it will only fund S1 healthcare for 180,000 pensioners, disabled people, students and posted workers living in the EU27 for 6 months in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

S1 healthcare is currently a reciprocal arrangement between the UK and the EU27. A lot of pensioners – 1 in 5 of the British citizens in Europe – will have made their retirement plans based on getting access to it.

It is funded by UK social security and tax contributions that these pensioners would have also paid into while they lived in the UK. Losing it has been the number 1 anxiety for them since the Referendum in 2016.

This is because private health arrangements in many EU27 countries are prohibitively expensive –  for example, it can cost up to 10% of an individual’s state and occupational pensions in France.

Many pensioners living in the EU27 survive on the UK state pension – already the lowest in the OECD. And there is no guarantee it will be uprated beyond 3 years.

The UK Government is spinning this 6 month funding as “a smooth transition” cover while it urges UK nationals in the EU27 to “act now to secure access to healthcare” as if it were as simple as ordering coffee in a restaurant.

Just what are they supposed to access if they cannot afford to get healthcare in their country of residence? I think it is this management consulting language that I find so odious here.

If you are an 85-year-old man who has cancer and cannot get access to your national healthcare scheme, what happens to you after 12 months if there is no-deal and no bilateral arrangement?

Are you an illegal resident if you cannot prove health cover (which is a long term residency requirement in many EU countries)?

Are you meant to sell up and move back to the UK, even though you cannot sell your house and don’t have any connections in the UK anymore? You may not get access to the NHS straight away either. (Just to remind you – this is an 85 year old with cancer we are talking about here).

The Government argues that it hopes to broker bilateral healthcare arrangements with all of the EU27 countries in the event of no-deal. But this is allowing the charade of playing politics with some of its most vulnerable nationals to continue.

And finally, here is your reminder that Vote Leave and, more specifically Boris Johnson, said the Vienna Convention would protect all the rights of British citizens in Europe – including S1 healthcare – after Brexit. Theresa May reiterated the point that nothing would change.

The UK government could just do the right thing and commit to funding S1 healthcare for pensioners, the disabled, etc. indefinitely. But it won’t.

Why not? What a way to treat some already deeply anxious people!

More British nationals will be affected by losing S1 healthcare – with potentially life threatening consequences – than those who booked holidays with Thomas Cook. Yet look how differently the UK government is responding.

And people are surprised that Boris Johnson got booed by local Brits when he turned up in Luxembourg last week?🔷

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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 23 September 2019, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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