Up until this point in time, expats living outside of the UK haven’t been entitled to free NHS care in the UK in the same way that permanent British residents are. Indeed, a sixty-something British retiree that has just moved to Spain having paid taxes in Britain their whole working life would not be able to access the NHS in the same cost-free way that a Spanish retiree now living in the UK perhaps would. One of the only ways the British expat could access free health facilities back home, for example whilst visiting friends or relatives, would be via an expat health insurance policy taken out with a private carrier.
But now the government is proposing shaking up healthcare arrangements for expats and migrants. Included in a consultation document released recently are proposals that any individual who has paid at least seven years’ worth of National Insurance contributions would be entitled to automatic free NHS care, regardless of how long they had lived abroad.
As part of the proposal the government invited expats to submit comments and opinion by 28th August, the results of which are currently being fed into the final decision making process. The government is especially looking for input from those that are registered with an expat insurance provider, to get the outside opinion of a group that may not be directly affected by any changes.
But still a certain amount of confusion remains over the proposed expat health shake-up. In asking ‘do you agree with the principle of exempting (from paying for UK healthcare) those with a long term relationship with the UK?’ the government is admitting that they themselves aren’t entirely sure how the changes would work, or even if there should be wide scale change in the first place. There is also confusion surrounding the terminology included in the proposal, centring particularly on the definition of ‘temporary migrants’ and how these differ to expats visiting for a medium length of time (longer than a holiday but not long enough to class as a more permanent resident).
It is likely that expat insurance companies are happy with the current situation, with potential clients more likely to take out policies if they feel that they would have to pay for NHS care if needed on a visit to Britain. The prospect of free healthcare for expats may tempt them to reconsider what does and doesn’t need to be paid for in their lives.
Interested parties await the results of the government’s consultation document with anticipation.