Overseas visitors without a European Health Insurance Care (EHIC) will begin being charged 150% of the tariff pricing for secondary care from April.
The Government, which has launched a crackdown on ‘health tourism’, said it now expects that charging migrants, visitors and former UK residents will help claw back £500m a year by 2017/18.
The implementation of migrant charging plans, announced today, comes as Pulse revealed this month that GPs in 10 pilot areas of England will begin conducting nationality checks of all new patients, asking for an EHIC or S1 form if applicable.
Eligibility for NHS care is based on ordinary residence but the Government has estimated that it loses hundreds of millions every year by providing free healthcare to visitors who do not actually live in England.
The new rules will also apply to UK citizens who live overseas except for those in a limited number of roles employed by the UK Government but stationed overseas, such as the armed forces. English state pensioners living overseas will continue to be entitled to free NHS healthcare but have to show their S1 form.
For now, patients will continue to be able to access GP services free of charge, but the Government is launching a new consultation looking at expanding the charging system to cover GP appointments this year. Emergency treatment will also continue to be available to all in A&E departments.
The Department of Health said the changes will ‘ensure that people who already live and work in the UK do not end up paying through their taxes for visitors who are not economically active’.
A DH statement said: ‘People who live outside the EEA, including former UK residents, should now make sure they are covered by personal health insurance, unless an exemption applies to them. Anyone who does not have insurance will be charged at 150% of the NHS national tariff for any care they receive.’
Anyone returning to the UK on a settled basis will be classed as ordinarily resident, and will be eligible for free NHS care immediately.
Ministers had previously said charging migrants could generate £200 million annually in extra income for the NHS. GPs have warned they must not become the ‘border agency’ responsible for ensuring non-eligible patients are charged.