Kiwi access to free healthcare benefits in UK axed

Prime Minister John Key has hit out at new legislation meaning New Zealanders will have to pay over $320 for health and dental care in the United Kingdom.

A reciprocal deal had been in place between New Zealand and the UK since 1982, allowing citizens travelling between the countries access to free health and dental care. However, that 34-year arrangement has now been chopped as part of a clamp-down on so-called "health tourism" -- going overseas to get medical treatment.

The British government's Home Office announced the end the programme from April 6 and today Key reacted saying the news is "really disappointing" and "pretty cheap".

Key says while Kiwis will still get a better deal than other international visitors to the UK, the move is not in the spirit of the historic ties between the two nations.

"We've been aware of it. You're excluded unless you're there for six months or more so it won't have any impact on travellers that go for a holiday to the United Kingdom. We've also got a lower rate than other countries, so down from £200 to £150 (NZ$328)," Key said.

"But in the end it's just another sort of chipping away of New Zealanders' rights in the UK and it's really disappointing.

"I think we have had this relationship based on the history of our country and New Zealand being a British colony. I would have thought charging Kiwis £150 if they're over there for a bit longer as a surcharge, over and above the National Health System, is pretty cheap and not really in keeping with the history of the two countries."

In 2015 the UK changed healthcare rules in an attempt to deter health tourism, meaning most non-European visitors now have to stump up to 150 per cent of ongoing health costs. The changes also introduced a £200 National Health Service surcharge for non-EU residents applying for UK visas.

And now the Immigration Health Surcharge has been extended to Australians and New Zealanders who spend more than six months in the UK.

The revised legislation means Kiwis are still entitled to free doctor's visits and there is also special dispensation for accident and emergency services, including treatment which is deemed urgent and cannot wait for the person to return to their home country.

But from April 6, Kiwis who are planning to spend more than six months in the UK, or who are applying from within the UK to extend their stay, will be required to pay a £150 per annum surcharge as part of their application.

The new surcharge will apply to anyone who is in the country for six months or longer.

- NZ Herald

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