By Carolyn Cohn, Isla Binnie and Maya Nikolaeva
LONDON/MADRID/PARIS (Reuters) – Some Britons living in the Europe Union are worried about losing access to free healthcare after Brexit, opening up a potentially lucrative new market for European health insurers.
“I am indebted to France for my life,” said Beryl Roberts from Pontivy, in the north west of the country, who has the French health service to thank for spotting her cancer.
“However if there is no more healthcare after Brexit, I will be desperate,” adds the 72-year-old, who is among more than a million Britons living in the EU and facing uncertainty.
Their biggest concern is over Britain leaving without a deal, which could affect some of the healthcare arrangements enjoyed by Britons living in Europe, many of them pensioners, as well as by more than three million EU citizens in Britain. Allianz Care, which offers an international private medical insurance policy, said enquiries from British citizens, often living in or with properties in France or Spain, had risen by 20% so far this year from the same 2018 period. “It speaks to the uncertainty. Potential customers have asked lots of questions about cover,” Peter Gibbons, head of individual and small groups at Allianz Care, said.
AXA Global Healthcare and Expatriate Group also report a rise in enquiries, by phone, email or live chat.
And in Italy, Jeremy Morgan, vice chairman of expatriate organization British in Europe, is also seeing concern.
“We’re suggesting people voluntarily join the local health service here, or they take out some kind of insurance.”
In Spain, Sophie Goode was hired by Polifani in 2017 following queries from Britons, who had previously made hardly any enquiries to the insurance broker.
Goode now receives four to six requests for information daily and gives advice about healthcare after Brexit at weekly meetings for expatriates at campsites in Benidorm.
Of every 10 consultations, Goode wins eight clients, including people who qualify for state-backed arrangements.
COUNTING THE COSTS
However, many potential customers are concerned about the cost and are holding off buying health insurance policies until they’re sure they need to, brokers and insurers say.
“We are saying – at this stage, do not worry,” said Guy Jones, director of broker BD Global Medical.
The British government last month said 180,000 people already living in the EU who have their healthcare funded by the UK, including pensioners and students, would have their costs covered in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
However, the offer only applies for six months.
Britain and Spain have a further arrangement giving people living in each country continued access to local healthcare until at least the end of 2020. Britons working and paying social security in Spain should keep the same access as now.
The issue could be less pressing if there is a Brexit deal, as Britain and the EU are expected to be covered by transitional arrangements for more than a year, although there remains a lack of clarity over what would happen after this.
Britain and Brussels are in 11th hour talks to try to reach a deal ahead of an EU summit beginning on Thursday.
Britons in Europe also worry health insurance will not cover them for pre-existing conditions.
“I could never afford private healthcare here, as I understand it would be about 8,000 euros a year and exclude my cancer care,” Beryl Roberts said.
Brokers agreed insurance would likely cost several thousand euros a year, and rates usually increase with age.
Health insurance premiums have also tended to rise sharply in recent years due to increases in medical costs, which Mercer Marsh Benefits said was 9.7% globally in 2018.
Broader international medical insurance policies are more likely than domestic insurance to include pre-existing conditions, offer documents and even online doctors in a variety of languages, and be portable across countries, insurers said.
But such policies are more expensive, brokers say.
Retired policeman Terry Roberts, 64, lives near Alicante in southern Spain and receives treatment from the Spanish state health system for diabetes and pancreatitis. He is worried he might have to start paying.
“At the moment it’s making me more ill than I was before. I have to have medication to keep me alive.”
(Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan, John Cotton and Sarah White in Paris, Simon Jessop in London and Juliette Jabkhiro in Dakar; Editing by Alexander Smith)