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The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is a government bill that was introduced in the House of Commons on 26 October 2018. It completed its report stage and third reading on 21 January 2019. The bill was unamended in the House of Commons. It was introduced in the House of Lords on 22 January 2019 and it is scheduled to have its second reading on 5 February 2019. This briefing provides background to the bill and its provisions, and summarises the bill’s House of Commons stages. 

The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is intended to allow the UK to maintain reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU and its member states, and to strengthen or implement new arrangements with other countries outside of the EU, after Brexit. The bill would provide the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care with powers to make regulations to fund and implement reciprocal healthcare agreements outside the UK and to share necessary data. 

The bill was introduced as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and is intended to enable the Government to respond to a range of possible outcomes of the UK’s exit in relation to reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Currently, the UK Government’s ability to fund and arrange healthcare for UK citizens within the EU is enabled by the EU Social Security Coordination Regulations, which provide the legal authority for the Secretary of State to make overseas payments to reimburse the cost of healthcare. The UK also has bilateral reciprocal healthcare agreements with several non-EU countries, for example Australia, which are more limited in scope. Presently, the Secretary of State has limited domestic powers to fund overseas healthcare or to implement complex reciprocal healthcare agreements with other states. The Government has said that once the UK leaves the EU it will be necessary for domestic legislation to provide the Secretary of State with powers to fund and arrange for healthcare overseas.

Overall, there was cross-party support for the aim of the bill to continue and replicate the existing reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU. However, the Opposition raised concerns about the level of parliamentary scrutiny of the powers given to the Secretary of State to make regulations to fund and implement multiple bilateral arrangements. It also called for greater parliamentary oversight with regard to the cost of future healthcare agreements. Several Members expressed concern that the Government had underestimated the potential consequences of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement on future healthcare arrangements.

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