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Pensioners told health rights run out on Brexit Day

British pensioners in France with their healthcare paid for via the EU S1 scheme have been left in limbo as to how they will be covered in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

This right – and others – were not covered in the UK government’s recent ‘no deal’ advice.

The problem has been highlighted after the Cpam state health body in Maine-et-Loire wrote to British reader Anne Williams, 70, saying her healthcare rights would expire on March 29, 2019 “because of Brexit”. It asked her to speak to the UK about her rights after that.

At present people living in France with UK state pensions are entitled to healthcare paid up to normal French levels by the UK. The UK and EU agreed that this would continue under the draft withdrawal agreement – however that would be voided in the case of a ‘no deal’.

If no subsequent France-UK agreement was reached, Britons in France would be in the same situation as those in the US where the UK does not pay anything and they must take out private insurance.

The UK and EU are seeking to tie up final areas of discussion before an EU summit on October 18, however on going to press no defined progress had been announced.

Mrs Williams received the Cpam letter after she tried to renew her rights, a routine annual formality. She queried why they were now limited to next March and was told it was due to Brexit. “It seems the French are taking contingency measures for a ‘no deal’,” she said.

Connexion sought clarification from the French Health Ministry and Cnam, the national body responsible for the Cpam network. Neither had provided information on going to press.

Asked how UK pensioners will access healthcare rights in France in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK’s Brexit Ministry referred us to the Health Ministry who did not answer the question but merely stated that it was “preparing for all scenarios, including the unlikely event that we reach March 29, 2019 without agreeing a deal”.

As the UK would no longer be part of the EU’s S1 scheme a solution might be for it to pledge to continue paying for Britons’ care in EU states, prioritising keeping the status quo for those who moved before Brexit (but this would have to be approved by the EU and/or individual countries like France).

As reported in our August edition a senior Interior Ministry official told Connexion that if there is ‘no deal’ France will respect the residency rights of Britons holding a carte de séjour and others will be entitled to regularise their situation by providing the same proofs as required for a card (for more on residency cards see the Brexit section of our website and/or our Brexit helpguide).

 It follows logically (though this has yet to be confirmed explicitly) that card-holders, as legal French residents, will be able to join France’s Puma scheme. This involves an annual payment of 8% of income above €9,933/year per person. In theory this is restricted to ‘capital’ income but can include some private pensions.

Those with no card at Brexit time, however, could face complications as the process for obtaining a card can take months. A last resort could be Aide Médicale d’Etat – stop-gap health rights for those without proof of legal residence. However, it is likely France would also accept cover via a comprehensive private policy, a requirement that up to now has usually only applied to early-retirees in the first five years of residency.

Mrs Williams said she and her husband would take on the burden of Puma if obliged to – but “it will squeeze our finances”. However pre-existing health conditions would make a private policy prohibitively expensive and Mr Williams has conditions which would make him uninsurable. “He needs daily oxygen. I can’t imagine the logistics of taking him back to Britain; it’s not a consideration.”

She said it would be cheaper for the UK to continue to fund membership of the French system for pensioners, rather than them being forced to return to the UK, as many areas are not 100% reimbursed in France. What is more if Britons are forced to return they would place pressure on infrastructure and hospital beds.

British Conservative MP Roger Gale, a keen supporter of expatriate rights, said he is not aware of any British contingency plans for the replacement of S1, or for other matters including uprating of expatriates’ UK state pensions, respect for EU pension aggregation or rights to exportable benefits. “I don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does either,” he said.

As for pension uprating, it is possible the UK will strike reciprocal agreements with individual countries, he said. He said it is also possible it will decide to maintain it for those Britons who are resident in France on Brexit day.

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