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At the beginning of September a wave of panic and confusion passed through the expat community in France : radical measures by France's new president would soon be introduced meaning that thousands of Britons enjoying early retirement in France could lose their rights to state health care under a new law that limits benefits to nonworking expatriates. The new rules will apply to all non French EU nationals, not only to the Brits. During his election campaign earlier this year Mr Sarkozy said: "If you think 53 makes you old enough to retire, then fine, go ahead and retire. But don't expect the state to pay for it."

The change concerns Britons who have retired to France, are not working, and are not yet old enough to receive a UK pension, which represents around 6,000 people.

Until now British expats were allowed to pay contributions (8% of their income) in order to get treatment through the French health-care system via the Couverture Medicale Universelle(CMU) but most of them previously covered by the NHS took up French residence before retirement age and benefited from France's healthcare system without even paying for it. This of course is unfair as France should not have to foot the bill of early retirees just because they were benevolent enough to do so in the past.

There is a similar situation for these early retired expats on low incomes who won't be able to claim free health insurance via the CMU anymore or for those who have reached UK retirement age but do not qualify for a UK pension.

For all those expats insured via the CMU, the French authorities will give them until end of March 2008 to find private health insurance. However these changes won't affect retired people receiving a state pension from the UK. They will keep their health insurance in France via form E121.

In the short term, new arrivals in France don't need to worry as they can be covered for up to 2 years by using the E106 form- this cost being met by the UK government. In the long term however these people will have to take out their own private health insurance. Cover starts at around 1800 Euros per year for a healthy 60 year old requiring only basic cover and who is willing to pay a top-up himself for certain treatments. If the same person requires full cover then the cost of insurance will be around 2700 Euros per year which when you compare it to the cost of private medical cover in the UK is actually still very reasonable.

Expats who are employed, self-employed or who are living with or married to a French person are unaffected. It is the same for those who are living with or married to a person in possession of an E121 or E106 form.

The French government points out that, as laid down in EU Directive 2004/38, it does not have any obligation to pay the health-care costs of non French EU nationals who have never worked in the country, and nor does it have any obligation to let them pay to join the French health-care insurance system via the CMU. With the highest public spending in the EU, France is desperate to reduce its deficit and isn't willing to carry on spending to benefit immigrants.

On the other hand, with more and more stories about people with pre-existing conditions, or disabled being denied health treatment in France the negative publicity may influence the French authorities to be a little bit more indulgent. And there is a possibility they will allow expats taking early retirement in France to continue paying their health insurance contributions via the CMU. We will not know for sure until the beginning of 2008 when the final laws have been passed and will update you as soon as we hear about it.

Niclas Dowlatshahi is the managing director of Leapfrog Properties who are French Property agents specialising in sales across France.

Article Source: No More French Health Cover For The Expats?

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