Campaign Against Health Law Gathers Pace

Expats in France have formed a campaign group to lead the fight against new immigration and health laws, which deny early retirees access to the State health insurance system. The campaign group, French Health Issues, is gathering support for a petition to the British Government, which calls upon them to ‘press the French Government to reconsider retrospective changes that will deprive British citizens of medical treatment’. The petition now contains over 1000 names. Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy, has already weighed in, with an assurance that the British Government have requested that the law is not applied against those already living in France. The group have also spearheaded a lobbying campaign to the European Parliament, backing a motion to the EU Parliament from UK MEP Mary Honeyball, which calls upon the EU to ensure portable public health care provision is available to all across the Union. To date, the motion has received support from 26 MEPs, including amongst their number, French MEP Catherine Neris. On their web site, the group have provided model letters in French for individuals to send to the French Government and local health authorities, as well as guidance on how to register to vote. As the new group is made up of existing expats, it is perhaps not surprising that the focus of campaigning activity is against the retrospective nature of the changes, although one of the founders of the group, Deborah Dudley, explains that, ‘Our immediate priority is to secure concessions for those already living in France, as many are going to find it difficult to meet the new residence requirement, either because of an existing illness, or because of the cost. But the campaign will not end there, as we believe these new laws are discriminatory, and conflict with the free movement of people in Europe.’

This view seems to be supported by written advice provided to one of our readers by the EU Citizens Signpost Service:

'Whilst the French government is entitled to change rules on healthcare rules for “inactive” persons, this is subject to the condition that the new French rules apply equally and in the same manner to French nationals and EU citizens.' 'In the event that the new French rules apply solely to EU citizens, whilst allowing French nationals to remain covered by CMU, this could be considered unlawful discrimination under EU law. In that event, as a matter of EU law, you must be entitled to continue to affiliate to the CMU under the same conditions as French nationals.'

Frank Murphy, a UK resident hoping to relocate to France, has prepared a substantial written critique against the new laws. He comments that, ‘A person seeking residence in a country is entitled to a reasonable expectation that the terms of their residency will have been spelled out to them before they become resident, and that once they have met those requirements, they will not be changed.' The new laws have caused a great deal of confusion amongst the local health authorities in France, many of whom have simply been unclear as to how to interprete the rules for all cases. Whilst some have taken a tough line, others have been unwilling to deny access to the system until further guidance is received. The French Government have promised a detailed circular in the near future. It is anticipated that the guidance will grant an exemption to the new rule on private health insurance for those who have lived in France for five years, and may well also grant concessions to those suffering from a long-term major illness, or disability. Local health authorities may then be left with the responsibility of deciding on individual applications, within a framework set by the Government. Contrary to many erroneous press reports, health care in France is not 'free' to early retirees. All are liable for a 8% health insurance charge above a basic income threshold, as well as a social levy of between 7% to 11% towards the repayment of the French social security debt, which grants no direct entitlement to health or social security benefits. In addition, as the State system only covers a percentage of medical charges, most people need to take out voluntary 'top-up' health insurance, or pay as they go.

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