David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has announced that a deal has been struck with officials in Brussels regarding the health care of retired UK passport holders residing in EU countries.
Davis has called it “good news for British pensioners in the EU” that agreement is in place, in principle, to have their health care paid for by the NHS in the UK.
This is a rare piece of progress that has been reported by the Brexit negotiators. one of the only items that have been agreed since talks began. Other agreements have been struck for “frontier workers”. These are individuals who live in one EU member country and work in another. Amongst such workers are those from the UK who commute to work in Europe and also those who live in an EU member country and commute to the UK.
The progress on NHS-paid health care for UK pensioners will come as a huge relief to UK citizens living in EU member countries. This has been a major concern since the Brexit campaigners won the referendum to have Britain leave the EU. British pensioners are by far the biggest group of UK nationals in the EU to benefit from the existing reciprocal health care rights. According to figures submitted to a committee earlier this year 190,000 registered pensioners accounted for £500m out of the £650m total health care bill currently being paid by the NHS.
The UK had been keen to secure a similar deal for UK tourists visiting EU member states. However, EU negotiators refused to discuss a deal for tourists while discussing a deal for residents.
UK tourists currently use the EHIC to access health care in EU member states whilst on holiday with 27m valid cards currently issued to UK citizens.