Britons with serious, sometimes terminal, illnesses who live in the EU say they have no certainty about how or even whether their healthcare costs will be covered after a no-deal Brexit and are suffering a “living nightmare” of anxiety and despair.
“It’s like a death sentence,” said Denise Abel, who moved to Italy in 2012. “It’s all you think about. I feel abandoned, betrayed and furious. There are no words for the rage I feel. We’re the collateral damage in the government’s war with the EU.”
The UK government announced last month that if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal the estimated 180,000 retired British nationals in the bloc whose healthcare costs it funds would continue to be covered for six months.
Most of the 1 million Britons in the EU are earners, so pay into the health systems of the EU member states they live in. Their healthcare arrangements should be unaffected by a no-deal Brexit.
But pensioners, who paid social security when they lived in the UK, are part of a reciprocal healthcare scheme, S1, under which the NHS reimburses the cost of their treatment – and which will cease to exist after a no-deal Brexit.
“They feel like they’ve been kicked in the gut,” said Kalba Meadows of the campaign 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.”
The government was urging pensioners to sign up for their local health system but this was often not possible or too expensive on a basic UK pension, which is worth 20% less in euros because of the collapse of the pound since the EU referendum in 2016, Meadows said. Private health insurance was also beyond the means of many retired people, who are likely to have pre-existing conditions.
“They are left with the very real prospect of having no healthcare,” she said. “And 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.”
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