Portugal offers subsidised post-Brexit healthcare for UK tourists
In a bid to offset the effects of Brexit on the economy, Portugal is to offer subsidised healthcare to UK tourists.
It is one of several new measures proposed by the Portuguese government in an effort to minimise disruption to Portugal’s Algarve tourist-reliant economy.
The British are by far the largest International group of holidaymakers who head for the region’s sun-drenched beaches each year to escape the cold and rain in the winter months and enjoy the guaranteed sunshine in the summer.
Rita Marques, the tourism minister, said the country was examining the possibility of a unilateral offer to ensure cover offered by the European health insurance card (Ehic), the EU reciprocal system. It is not sure, however, if current arrangements can continue if a deal is not struck during this year’s trade talks, reports the Guardian.
“Portugal and England are the oldest allies in the world, and no matter what happens the Portuguese will stand by the British. The British traveller is very important to us,” said Rita Marques.
“We are looking to guarantee this health cover next year. We are currently looking at how often it is used and if it is making a positive impact. We are in the process of testing this and the other ideas right now,” she added.
“If these are issues that are important to the British traveller, then we have to go for it. We are trying to minimise the disruption to British tourism,” she continued.
Around 2 million Britons visit Portugal each year with the Algarve being the Nº1 destination with 1.2 million tourists in 2019.
Among other measures being considered by the Portuguese Government are dedicated passport lanes for British visitors, special arrangements to continue to recognise British driving licences and entry for British pets.
But the Guardian says that the benefits of offering replacement healthcare cover when the Ehic ceases to apply to British residents from January 2021 is the most dramatic and potentially expensive policy that the government is considering.
“The idea is that you would pay the same as a Portuguese person, which is a small tax to see the GP or visit a hospital,” Marques said, adding that it would involve agreements with both state and private hospitals.
It is not clear, however, how this would work for minor health issues whereby tourists might be directed to health centres given that such subsidised taxes known as ‘taxes moderadoras’ have been recently scrapped by the Portuguese government in health centres.
Unlike the UK, Portugal used to charge a set fee for a GP visits. Would this co-payment still apply to British tourists in the Algarve where it costs around €14 and €18 for emergency medical services, and between €9 and €45 for a consultation with a GP or health centre professional?
Either way, a UK health card might be offered to UK tourists given that the market represents around €3Bn or around 1.5% of the overall Portuguese economy of €240Bn while statistics show that 17% of all tourist receipts in Portugal come from the British market with the number of overnight stays from British visitors up 8% compared with 1.3% for tourism as a whole.
Last year, the Portuguese tourist bureau Turismo de Portugal ran a campaign directed at the UK market called ‘Brelcome’ which emphasises that UK tourists would always be welcome in Portugal whatever the outcome of Brexit, trumpeting its 850 km coastline food and sunshine which contributed towards reversing the decrease in British tourist numbers in 2018 after a six-year boom.