UK Government Overhauls NHS Charges For Expats and Migrants

By Editorial 01 January, 2014

Britain is to extend charges for visitors or migrants who wish to use the National Health Service to include aspects of primary care including emergency services, although new rules will also mean that some British expats who return to the UK for medical treatment will become entitled to free treatment.

Currently, British expats who live permanently abroad lose their entitlement to free treatment with the NHS, sometimes without being aware of the fact. However, the Government now says that charges will no longer apply to those expats who have made "the required contribution" through past National Insurance (NI) payments. The amount needed to qualify will be determined during 2014.

The Government will also take account of the situation of women who may have made fewer NI contributions due to employment circumstances. The Government says it will align eligibility with criteria for UK pensions and other state benefits, and that existing rules to support families through NI credits could mitigate the impact on women.

Meanwhile, the plan for new charges for visitors and migrants was introduced by the Government as part of what it called a "clampdown on abuse of the NHS." The Government argues that the changes will allow the NHS to recoup money through a consistent charging system and encourage only those who need urgent and emergency care to attend. However, the Government has also promised that no-one will be turned away in an emergency.

A new system will identify and record patients who should be charged.

Under the new policy, consultations with a doctor or nurse will remain free, although the Government says it is considering levying a charge for minor surgery that is carried out by a doctor and for physiotherapy that has been referred through a doctor. Visitors and migrants will also have to pay more for subsidized services such as opticians and dentists.

Health Minister Lord Howe further explained that a consultation with NHS frontline staff had indicated that the Government should "remain firm" on maternity services. He claimed that "some people" were abusing the system by coming into the UK to give birth without intending to pay, adding: "Current rules already state that, while services should not be withheld, an overseas visitor identified as chargeable and wishing to receive maternity or antenatal care must pay for any services they receive."

The timing for the new charges will be made public in March 2014, and many of the changes are expected to be introduced during 2014.

In October, the Government announced a new health surcharge for overseas visitors as well as measures to improve cost recovery.

Tags: United Kingdom | Expats | Healthcare | Immigration | Welfare | Healthcare | Immigration |


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