British expats who have taken early retirement to live in Europe will no longer receive free health care.
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Expats over retirement age will still pick up free medical care from, local doctors and clinics, but those under pensionable age will lose out.
Only those of working age who have qualified for free care under the social security system in the country where they now live will see no change.
The switch off is planned from April 1 as part of British government spending cuts.
The rules are changing so the British National Health Service will not have to reimburse care costs to another European state for unemployed men under 65 years old and jobless women under 60 years old.
Form S1 changes
The changes involve agreements between Britain and other governments that come under the signing of the Form S1.
This form provides free medical cover for expats for up to 30 months after leaving the UK. However, providing free medical care with this agreement is not part of European Union law.
“Nowhere else in Europe offers an equivalent to the S1 and the reasons for the UK doing so in the past arise because the NHS is different to continental health care systems,” said a Department of Health spokesman.
“This is part of our commitment to make sure the cost of health services remains fair to British taxpayers. The changes only apply to new S1applications. All current S1 forms are valid until their cessation date but will not be renewed.
“We are still working on exactly how the new S1 rules will work and cannot make a definite statement until the review is complete.”
Government cost saving
The health department could not put a figure on the saving, but nearly 2,500 S1s were issued in the last financial year.
As an estimate, the average costs paid out per pensioner per month in France for medical costs is £4,000 a year and around £3,000 in Spain.
The move has a political as well as a financial implication, as the British government pledges to tackle an open door policy on medical tourists coming to the UK for free treatment.
The argument for the government is closing free NHS services to incomers while expecting other states to pay for medical care for British expats makes justifying the policy difficult.
Free emergency medical cover for travellers and tourists under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is unaffected by the change.
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