According to The Telegraph, the British government is set to scrap a benefit by which UK citizens under the retirement age can get free treatment in countries such as Spain and France when they do not qualify through employers.
The change is likely to occur on April 1, 2014, according to the Department of Health. It is only one of a series of belt-tightening initiatives under review across the National Health Service (NHS).
The bottom-line is that NHS will no longer reimburse another European state for health costs incurred by non-working Britons under pensionable age.
Currently, many unemployed expats under age 65 (or women under 60) within the EU effectively pass their care costs to the Treasury.
Claimants should have made NHS contributions for the past three years to qualify for the full period of coverage.
COMMENT: The changes do not affect people who already hold residual S1 status. Yet, once their current form lapses, those living in France would be obliged to purchase private medical insurance.
The element of compulsion follows a 2007 crackdown on early retirees using the French system without having contributed to it.
People living in the expat enclaves in Spain are likely to be similarly affected and required to buy private insurance, which can be costly, particularly if they have Pre-Existing Conditions (PEC). Spanish regions with big north European communities have followed the French example.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the residual S1 provisions were not part of EU law.
The amount of money to be saved from the S1 move is unclear. However, 2,355 residual S1s were issued in the financial year 2012/13, with many valid for the full 30 months.
As a rough guide to what each S1 might cost the Treasury, the Department said the average cost per pensioner per month in France for health services was €372.12 in 2010 – roughly £4,000 a year at today's prices allowing for inflation.
The equivalent figure for Spain (2011) was €280.15, some £3,000 a year currently.
Scrapping previous benefits comes as part of an NHS efficiency review which includes a drive to crack down on immigrants from all parts of the world abusing the "open door" principles.
According to some estimates, the total cost of medical services for ineligible persons could amount to as much as £2 billion a year.
The Department of Health spokesperson said: "We are committed to ensuring that the NHS is sustainable and fair for the British taxpayer. The changes only apply to new applications. All existing residual S1 forms will remain in place and continue to be valid until their cessation date."
If April 1 is change day, Britons seeking 2.5 years "free" health cover on the Continent have a very small window in which to benefit from free coverage.
THE CHANGES DO NOT AFFECT BRITISH CITIZENS OVER RETIREMENT AGE. Neither do they affect EU citizens seeking emergency care through EHIC, the European Health Insurance Card.