British expats suffering from serious illness while living in a European Union country say they are made to feel worse due to uncertainty about their health care costs if the UK leaves the bloc with a no deal Brexit.
Although the British government has agreed to pay the medical bills of around 180,000 retired expats for six months after Brexit regardless of if there is a deal or not, many are worried about what will happen after that time.
Roughly two thirds of the 3 million British expats in Europe are retired.
The rest are earners who have paid into the social security system in the country where they live, so should remain unaffected by Brexit.
Unaffordable medical cover
The pensioners who paid into the UK’s social security system and have since moved to another EU country have their health care costs reimbursed by the UK National Health Service, but this agreement ceases with a no deal Brexit.
“They feel like they’ve been kicked in the gut,” said Kalba Meadows of expat lobby group British in Europe. “A lot of them are pretty vulnerable; it really wouldn’t take much to guarantee their rights until bilateral reciprocal arrangements are in place.”
She also explained that local health care was becoming unaffordable for many British expats due to the plunging value of the Pound, which is worth 20% less since the EU referendum in June 2016.
Hundreds calls for help
“They are left with the very real prospect of having no healthcare,” said Meadows. “In many countries, without healthcare you are no longer legally resident. There’s really a lot of fear. We’ve had hundreds of people contact us. Many are elderly, some have terminal illnesses – they are genuinely petrified.”
After three years of negotiations, expats are no clearer now about how their medical bills will be paid once Britain leaves the EU than they were at the time of the referendum.
They are also concerned that if there is a no deal Brexit, sorting out health care could take months if not years longer.