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EU Questions France Over Health Rules

The EU Commission considers France may be in breach of EU regulations by denying expat early retirees health insurance cover.

The Commission spokesperson on Social Affairs Cristina Arigho told French-Property.com that: ‘The European Commission is currently in discussion with the French authorities to clarify the 2007 decree concerning the Couverture Maladie Universelle and is analysing its compatibility with European law.’

She added: ‘The Commission is working on a solution that would allow UK pre-retired persons access to health coverage. This involves close cooperation with the French authorities to examine the French rules in place and seeing whether they are in line with Community legislation.'

It seems the EU Commission has decided to take an interest in the ban following the introduction in 2009 of new regulations on the coordination of social security systems, which imposes a stronger obligation on member states to allow those who are legally resident in a member country access to their health system.

Regular readers of our Newsletter will recollect that in November 2007 France decided to deny economically inactive expat early retirees access to the French health system through the Couverture Maladie Universelle (CMU).

The rule was introduced following the discovery of abuse of the system by some British residents living in Dordogne, who under-declared their income, thereby obtaining access to the system at little or no cost.

The French government surmised that this abuse was more widespread, so brought the shutters down.

As a result, anyone taking early retirement in France has been obliged to take out private health insurance on the expiry of their E106 (now S1) cover, or take employment/self-employment in order to then be eligible for health cover.

Only when early retirees have completed 5 years legal residence are they now permitted to affiliate to the health system, although there are some limited exceptons for 'accidents de vie'.

The ‘Catch 22’ for expat early retirees is that, in order for them to be legally resident, France has decreed that they must have comprehensive health insurance!

The Commission considers this is in breach of EU regulations. In their view, the test of 'centre of interests' should be the main basis for judging whether a person should be deemed to be legally resident.

If this test does not prove conclusive, the 2009 EU regulations state that: 'Where the consideration of the various criteria based on relevant facts......does not lead to agreement between the institutions concerned, the person’s intention, as it appears from such facts and circumstances, especially the reasons that led the person to move, shall be considered to be decisive for establishing that person’s actual place of residence.'

Initially, the 2007 legislation was to apply retrospectively, with the prospect that tens of thousands of early retirees in France would have been left without health cover and, therefore, illegally resident.

After a major lobbying campaign by expats, and with the assistance of the British Embassy in Paris, the French government conceded that the legislation would not be applied to those who were already in the CMU as at 26 Nov 2007.

For those who remain eligible, affiliation to the CMU costs 8% of your net income above a minimum threshold, but is available free of charge to those on a low income.

The French Ministry of Health stated to us that, as far as they were concerned, there would be no change in the rules.

Watch this space for further news!

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This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 01/06/2010

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