Today, the Government is introducing the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. This 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 (EU).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Bill also confers powers on 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.
Current healthcare agreements benefit people in all parts of the UK, assisting people to obtain healthcare when they are abroad. The UK Government is therefore engaging with the devolved administrations to deliver an approach that works for the whole UK in a way that fully respects the devolution settlements.
The Bill underscores the Government’s commitment to reaching a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the EU, or where necessary making agreements with Member States, and to exploring potential agreements with third countries in the future.
The Government welcomes the forthcoming scrutiny of the Bill, to ensure that it achieves its aims for the continuation of healthcare support for UK nationals in the EU, EEA and Switzerland after the UK exits the EU, but also enabling the UK to look to the future.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: