LORDS

Report urges Government for clarity on EU reciprocal healthcare

Hospital reception
28 March 2018

In the absence of an agreement on reciprocal healthcare, the rights of UK citizens to hold an EHIC card for treatment in the EU will cease after Brexit, says the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in a report published today.

Background

The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union could have a significant impact on the UK’s access to EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements. These arrangements support the free movement of people by eliminating the financial or bureaucratic barriers that millions of citizens, whether UK nationals resident in the EU or those from the EU resident in Britain, would otherwise face in accessing treatment. Reciprocal healthcare arrangements also play a vital role in allowing people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, the elderly, and children with healthcare needs, to travel abroad and avoid prohibitively expensive insurance costs.

The Government's ambition post-Brexit is to continue the access provided by the current arrangements. In its report, the Committee examines the draft Brexit agreements drawn up by the UK and the EU, and assesses the extent to which they address the concerns raised by witnesses.

Key findings

  • In the absence of an agreement on future relations that covers reciprocal healthcare, the rights currently enjoyed by 27 million UK citizens, thanks to the EHIC, will cease after Brexit. Other rights, provided for by the S2 scheme and Patients’ Rights Directive, will also come to an end.
  • Reciprocal healthcare arrangements post-Brexit will only be achieved by agreement between the UK and the EU. The Government has not yet set out its objectives for the future UK-EU relationship. We therefore urge the Government to confirm how it will seek to protect reciprocal rights to healthcare of all UK and EU citizens post-Brexit, as part of any agreement on future relations.
  • It is essential that, as well as having a continuing right to access long term healthcare, EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK should be provided with a practical means by which to exercise that right. We call on the Government to use domestic legislation to clarify the means by which all EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK at the time of Brexit will be able to continue to access essential healthcare.
  • We welcome the assurances contained in the Joint Report about the importance of maintaining freedom of movement under the Common Travel Area and cooperation under the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Regardless of the other arguments against a hard border, any such barrier would be highly detrimental to healthcare for patients on both sides of the border, including children and other vulnerable patients.

Chairman's quote

Chairman of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, Lord Jay of Ewelme, said: 

"One of the primary aims of the EU's reciprocal healthcare arrangements is to support free movement by eliminating the financial or bureaucratic barriers that individuals would otherwise face in accessing healthcare.

"These arrangements have brought the greatest benefit to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The Committee heard evidence on the vital role that reciprocal healthcare plays in improving the lives of people with disabilities, the elderly, and children.

"We do not wish to see this progress reversed in the future. While we applaud the spirit underlying the Government’s ambition to maintain reciprocal healthcare arrangements, including the European Health Insurance Card, post-Brexit, it is difficult to square this with ending freedom of movement of people from the EU.

"We therefore urge the Government to clarify whether it will seek UK participation in the EHIC, S1 and S2 schemes as a non-EU Member State; set up a separate scheme with the EU27; or explore the possibility of reaching bilateral arrangements with individual Member States. Clarity from the Government will enable UK and EU citizens, the NHS, and insurance providers, to plan for the post-Brexit future."

Further information

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