Monday, August 10, 2015

Government to review possible abuse of EHIC cards

Health Minister Alistair Burt has confirmed that the government will, as a matter of urgency, investigate whether there is a problem with fraudulent use of EHIC cards and how the system can be improved to ensure that this does not happen in the future.

"It is completely unacceptable that people living outside the UK think they can abuse our NHS,"

he said

"The Department will urgently carry out more work to include EHIC applications."


EHICs (European Health Insurance cards) were introduced in 2006. They are supposed to be used to ensure British residents and taxpayers visiting other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland can obtain emergency healthcare. The other countries participating issue their own EHIC cards which can be used to ensure their citizens can obtain healthcare when visiting any EU or EFTA country. My family have always taken them with us when visiting another EU member state or an EFTA member country in case of au unexpected accident or illness but have never needed to use one.

However, a Daily Mail Report alleges that there could be widespread abuse of the cards by people who neither live in or pay tax in the UK but have applied for and been issued a British EHIC card so they can get the British NHS to fund health treatments in their own countries.

NHS is supposed to stand for NATIONAL health service, not international health service, and it is utterly ridiculous to issue these cards to people who are not UK citizens, residents, or taxpayers: the citizens of another participating nation in this reciprocal healthcare scheme are supposed to get them from their own country.

According to the Mail report the NHS is handing out more than five million EHICs for free every year – and keeping no record of how many are being given to foreigners.

The Mail alleges that the cards are given out freely to any EU citizens who says they are living in the UK, even if they haven’t actually worked or paid any tax here.
 
As a result, citizens of other EU countries can obtain the cards, then return to their home countries and use them to have medical treatment they would usually have to pay for funded by the NHS.
 
Because EHICs last for five years, they could potentially be very valuable to patients with ongoing conditions, or who have multiple pregnancies and births.
 
In an undercover investigation, an Eastern European woman working for the Mail – who has never lived or paid taxes in Britain – was able to get one of the cards after visiting the UK for less than a day. Hungarian journalist Ani Horvath took it to clinics and hospitals in her native Hungary which confirmed she could use it to get maternity care and even skin treatments paid for by the UK taxpayer.
 
When she asked maternity clinic staff how many Hungarian women had registered for appointments covered by the British NHS, she was told: ‘A lot of people. More and more.’
 
Using the card, she could have registered for a consultation with an optometrist costing a potential £150 or one with a dermatologist for £130 – or even antenatal and birth/maternity care for one pregnancy at £9,500, or a £47,000 liver transplant.

At the moment we don't know the scale of this abuse. The amount paid out to other Health services for treatment under British EHICs was £154 million in 2013/4 and some of this would have been genuine, but the fact that we do not know how much was legitimate and how much was paid to treat people who are not UK citizens, residents or taxpayers is a matter for concern.

I am pleased to learn the government is investigating and hope they can close this loophole as quickly as possible.

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