Daily Mail exposes scandal that isn’t

Daily MailIf you’ve glanced at the front page of the Daily Mail today, you’ll have seen that those scheming, sneaky foreigners are at it again. This time, according to the Daily Mail, “foreigners charge NHS for care in their own country.”

The full report is here, but let me summarise it for you. A Hungarian journalist living in Hungary – and working for the paper – lied and used a forged tenancy agreement to obtain a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), to which she had no legal entitlement. An EHIC allows residents of certain European countries to obtain emergency medical treatment when visiting other European countries. The journalist then visited health providers in Hungary to confirm that they accepted the EHIC. She states in the paper that she did not use the card to obtain any care, but if she had done so the authorities in Hungary would have been entitled to claim the cost of that care back from the UK Government.

Cue outrage at soft touch Britain, etc.

But hang on a second. Holding an EHIC only entitles someone to access healthcare on the same basis as a resident of the country they’re visiting (here’s the NHS page confirming that). So, if the Hungarian journalist had used the card to obtain medical treatment in Hungary she would only have received something to which she was already entitled. True, the NHS may have been charged for that treatment, but how would that advantage her? Any additional fees or charges she’d normally have to pay as a local would be equally payable if she’d been using her UK-issued EHIC. They wouldn’t have been waived and they wouldn’t be reclaimable. Why would someone go to the bother and risk of committing a crime to obtain a card that doesn’t give them anything to which they are not already entitled?

With her UK-issued EHIC she could visit other European countries and use it there, of course, but she could also do that with a Hungarian-issued EHIC and been entitled to exactly the same care.

In some countries, even if you hold an EHIC, you may have to pay a fee to obtain care, for example for a GP or dentist appointment, to obtain prescription medication, or for stays in hospital. Until July last year UK residents holding EHICs were able to claim those fees back, and I can see why that might encourage someone to lie in the way this journalist did to obtain the card, but people cannot any longer reclaim those fees.

No loophole has been exposed here. The journalist involved lied and produced a forged document to obtain something to which she was not entitled. That’s not finding a loophole; that’s just lying and, quite possibly, breaking the law.

But I guess it’ll rile up a few people who enjoy getting riled up by such things, and I guess that’s the point. #sigh

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

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28 Comments

  • David Faggiani 10th Aug '15 - 1:48pm

    Excellent deconstruction.!

  • It’s pretty much what you would expect from the Daily Mail, but love or hate the story we all have to admit the Beckhams do have cute kids!

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Aug '15 - 2:16pm

    Very good analysis. As we know, the Mail has plenty of form here. The story that immediately springs to mind is the journalist lying about being destitute to ‘prove’ how ‘easy’ it was to exploit food banks.

  • Also, the “cost” of EHIC to the NHS is about 0.1% to 0.2% of the NHS budget, much less than HIV drugs that Farage got into a fuss about during the election (and which we shouldn’t be cutting).

  • The BBC has been reporting this story all day long on their news channel.

  • It would be a scandal if a journalist were able to get a British passport using a forged document, wouldn’t it?

    We would expect checks to be made on those applying for passports to make sure that they were really entitled to them and if it turned out that those checks were not being done, or only being done cursorily, then that would be something worth exposing.

    Why is this different?

    Public systems must be robust against attempts to defraud them (which it seems is what this is) and if they are not robust enough then that is, indeed, a scandal.

  • Mark Townend 10th Aug '15 - 4:33pm

    There is a superficially plausible economic argument for an individual doing this according to the paper, as it would allow a person living in their own Eastern European country of origin to obtain free emergency medical treatment there without having to pay into their local state or (nominally) private health insurance schemes. However, this insurance is compulsory and automatic in most cases including Hungary, rather like tax and NI, so how anyone working could have avoided paying escapes me.

    The Hungarian journalist did not do this all alone from abroad. She had help from another DM reporter who visited the NHS EH1C issuing office, posing as the ‘landlord’ and handing over the fraudulent tenancy agreement on the applicant’s behalf. The EH1C card is a EU-wide scheme so can be issued by any member country to cover an individual’s emergency treatment when travelling. The DM is wilfully misrepresenting discussion on European webforums about the benefits of the card in general as being primarily about fraudulently obtaining the cards from the NHS in the UK. As mostly we can’t be bothered to read foreign to check this many Britons will happily accept this blatant lie from the scurrilous rag.

    As always the DMs agenda here is to keep on pushing the health and benefit tourism meme. Expect yet another ‘crackdown’ on checks and delays obtaining the cards in response. That will inconvenience legitimate EU citizens living and working here, even British citizens going on holiday as well, and will impose more administrative costs on the struggling NHS whilst not actually addressing a problem of any real scale at all!

  • I remember reading a story in the mid-1970s about people claiming British unemployment benefit while living in Spain.While it may have been technically possible under a treaty if fact there was not a single case of it happening.

  • Robert Eggleston 10th Aug '15 - 4:53pm

    Any chance that the proprietors of the Mail will be arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud?

  • Christine Headley 10th Aug '15 - 5:27pm

    And some Tory was saying you should have to produce the usual two types of ID evidence (like for opening a bank account) to get an EHIC. How you do this online – which is how I renew or replace my EHIC – is beyond me.

  • According to the BBC the government confirms there is a loophole.

    It is easy to acquire the card without adequate checks or proof of residence then use it in another EU country to get treatment which is then charged to the NHS.

  • @Robert: Reported to the DWP as a form of benefit fraud.

    Irony is delicious.

  • There is a bit of loophole here. Of course, someone living in Hungary doesn’t need a British EHIC – but what if someone not living and working anywhere in Europe gets one? That being said, DM are just their usual self.

  • As a previous LD voter I visit the site to see whether I identify with the sentiments of today.

    I don’t buy the Daily Mail but it seems their article was correct.

    I have to say that some of the attitudes expressed above are rather snide and show LD supporters in an unattractive light.

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 10th Aug '15 - 9:14pm

    @Peter:
    Thank you for your comments, you are welcome here! But as a matter of interest, what do you think of the article’s key points that:

    1. The DM used ‘entrapment’ to show how an EHIC may falsely be obtained, and that EHICs are confirmed as usable in a foreign country. But it has not exposed that foreigners ARE charging the NHS in their own country.

    2. The DM implies that foreigners are leaching on the NHS but has no evidence that this has actually happened, or indeed if some UK citizens may even do the same trick themselves with, say, a Spanish EHIC in UK (This would be INSANE for obvious reasons!)

    3. That there is an unexplained motivation gap- while a non-UK EU citizen could go through the trouble of falsely claiming an EHIC, they can’t actually benefit from it financially themselves. And if it was for an emergency situation, is someone going to get in that situation in another EU country in order to claim it on the NHS? Or are they possibly going to be more concerned with their own health at that moment than how to diddle the NHS….

    It may be worth pointing out that some UK citizens go to other EU countries’ healthcare systems e.g. France, or Spain, or Czech republic- because they can’t get that treatment here, or prefer it in those countries. And some EU citizens may even on balance prefer their systems than ours….

    Maybe the DM is trading on a fear that EU citizens are randomly insane and bitter towards the UK- or would that be far-fetched?

  • Richard Stallard 10th Aug '15 - 11:51pm

    There are plenty of motivations to do this, of course. If in your own country a particular treatment is expensive and thus rarely offered (or only if one has the money or right connections), then if you can show that the NHS will pay for it, you’ll probably get it easier. Even more so if the hospital realises it’s on to a good thing and charges over the odds.

    Plus, of course, the situation is wide open to fraud for treatments that are charged for but never actually take pace. Most parts of the world are more corrupt than here in the UK and it’s naive to think that there aren’t scams going on involving hospital staff and administrators.

  • Thanks everyone for commenting on my article. Some of you raise specific questions and points, so let me address some of them:
    @Dav – You ask how getting an EHIC is different from a UK passport; if you re-read my article, hopefully I cover that by pointing out that a UK-issued EHIC card did not entitle the Hungarian journalist to anything more than she is already entitled to as a Hungarian living in Hungary. Getting this card does not make her any better off than when she didn’t have it.
    @Peter – But she could have obtained a Hungarian-issued EHIC perfectly legally and obtained healthcare in any EU/EEA country and Switzerland with that. An EHIC issued by Hungary accesses everything that a UK one does in exactly the same way. So, why would anyone do what she did?
    @Igor S – It’s still not a loophole. She did not obtain a EHIC by using a loophole. She obtained one by lying and using a forged tenancy agreement.
    @Richard Stallard – An EHIC isn’t like a credit card with which you can buy whatever medical procedures you want and the NHS picks up the tab. An EHIC only entitles someone to access healthcare on the same basis as a resident of the country they’re visiting (as stated in the article), so someone simply cannot use it to obtain care in their home country to which they are not ordinarily entitled. As said above, with this card she cannot obtain anything that she isn’t already able to obtain as a resident of Hungary.

  • ” Most parts of the world are more corrupt than here in the UK ”
    The UK is becoming similar to other parts of the world.

  • Richard Stallard 11th Aug '15 - 8:19am

    @Stuart
    You’ve missed my point, I think.
    “someone simply cannot use it to obtain care in their home country to which they are not ORDINARILY entitled”.
    Yes – but with the state of corruption as it stands in so many parts of the world, what wasn’t normally available can become so, if someone else (the NHS) is prepared to pay.

  • What a lot of hot air. Let’s just have a European Health System and be done with it!

  • @Richard – I didn’t miss your point that foreigners are inherently more corrupt than British people, I just ignored it.

  • You ask how getting an EHIC is different from a UK passport; if you re-read my article, hopefully I cover that by pointing out that a UK-issued EHIC card did not entitle the Hungarian journalist to anything more than she is already entitled to as a Hungarian living in Hungary. Getting this card does not make her any better off than when she didn’t have it

    Right, but the point is not whether it entitles the fraudster to anything they wouldn’t have already got, but that the fraud shouldn’t be possible at all. System should assume that people are going to try to defraud them, because people are people, and so be robust against fraud; if this system is not robust then it in not fit for purpose, is it?

    As for motivation — if a Hungarian citizen can by fraud obtain a UK EHIC, what is to stop someone who is not a citizen of an EU country from doing so? They could then travel to France and obtain health care there as if they were French and it would be paid for by the NHS.

    It’s a fairly contrived scenario, but it seems to me that with the systems as vulnerable to fraud as they are it would be possible, yes? And it would leave the non-EU citizen better off than they were, and therefore there would be motivation to do it, yes? And therefore the system should be made robust against it.

  • Richard Stallard 11th Aug '15 - 10:43am

    “I didn’t miss your point that foreigners are inherently more corrupt than British people, I just ignored it.”

    Sorry, Stuart – that’s somewhat twisting the argument, old chap. Corruption is rife (whether you choose to believe that or not). As soon as any system is put in place, someone, somewhere will try to fiddle it for their own ends. Therefore, the system needs to be tested and amended or abandoned if it is found wanting.

  • “So, if the Hungarian journalist had used the card to obtain medical treatment in Hungary she would only have received something to which she was already entitled. True, the NHS may have been charged for that treatment, but how would that advantage her? Any additional fees or charges she’d normally have to pay as a local would be equally payable if she’d been using her UK-issued EHIC.” ARE YOU NOT A TAX-PAYER?? YOU ARE SO LIBERTINE WITH THIS! ALTHOUGH I CONSIDER MYSELF ON THE LEFT OF THE PARTY, I HATE ANY ABUSES AND WASTE!

  • Katerina Porter 11th Aug '15 - 4:06pm

    You have to be ILL to get anything, and the local system checks the card. That is all you can reasonably expect them to spend time on.

  • This article and many of the comments are missing the point, which is really really simple. There are situations when ehic cards can be fraudulently used for personal gain with losses for the UK taxpayer. The Mail article doesnt articulate that well why people would do this, but for example, it could be to avoid co-pay. The conclusion is, we should consider and balance the cost of the fraud vs the cost of making ehic issuance more secure. Thats all!

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Oct '15 - 11:58am

    Check with transparency International.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Jul '17 - 8:12pm

    Former Euro Commissioner Chris Patten commented in ‘First Confession’ that
    “Neil Kinnock, my fellow British Commissioner, telephoned me to suggest that I should join him in discouraging Romano Prodi from an initiative he was determined to take. He intended to go to London to see the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, to tell him what he wanted his Commission to do over the next five years. He thought he could persuade Dacre to give the Commission and its policies fairer coverage. I agreed with Neil that this was a terrible idea. born of Romano’s perhaps other worldly view of the quality of British tabloid journalism and its interest in the truth. We both failed to dissuade him, even though we argued that the word ‘fairness’ became oxymoronic when used in the same sentence as Dacre’s name. He duly went to London. Dacre received him courteously but told him succinctly that his position on the EU was very clear. His newspaper, he said, had two ‘stringers’ in Brussels. They were there to ferret out every bad story they could find about Brussels and the EU. That is what his paper would publish. He was not interested in anything else. Romano returned to Brussels, his belief in the British commitment to responsible free speech and liberal values considerably dented.

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