The EHIC is a travel essential…and it’s here to stay

Medic boxWith the holiday season on the horizon travellers are being urged to check they have got a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and make sure they know exactly what it covers. A recent report has shone a light on some common misconceptions about the EHIC and it makes for essential holiday reading.

The survey carried out by a leading comparison website found that over half of the country doesn’t have an EHIC and that more than five million expired last year. Even more worrying was the finding that nearly 70% mistakenly believed that the EHIC provides free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe (when it doesn’t) and alarmingly 6% believed it provides worldwide cover.

The EHIC is a vital piece of holiday plastic, but it doesn’t cover as much as most people think. It’s designed as a reciprocal health agreement that provides cardholders with the same level of emergency state medical care as local citizens.

Much of the misunderstanding comes from the fact that, if you require emergency treatment in the UK, the entire cost is covered by the NHS.  However, it isn’t always the case in Europe where patients are often expected to pay a consultation fee or part of the overall cost, which aren’t covered by the EHIC. Put another way: you pay what the locals pay, and that could leave you seriously out of pocket.

It’s also worth underlining the fact that the EHIC is limited to providing state medical care, which means you won’t be eligible for free treatment in the growing number of private health clinics that are springing-up in alpine ski resorts and along Mediterranean beaches. You also won’t be covered if you fall ill on a cruise ship and you won’t be covered for transportation back home.

Given that the EHIC is free, there’s really no excuse for not having one, but it’s worth bearing the following in mind:

  • The EHIC provides reciprocal emergency medical treatment in Europe, but you need to carry the card which you can apply for here
  • The EHIC is valid for five years and can be renewed up-to six months before it expires, so check yours is still valid
  • The EHIC is free, but there are several scam sites who charge a fee for ‘assisting’ with the application process. If in doubt use the link above or follow the links from the NHS website
  • The EHIC is designed to complement, rather than replace travel insurance, and some providers insist you carry a card as a condition of cover

What is the future for the EHIC after Brexit?

With Brexit hogging the headlines holidaymakers have begun speculating about the future of the EHIC. However, thanks to the Brexit Secretary David Davis it looks like the EHIC is here to stay. Mr Davis recently announced his intention to convince Brussels to continue with the scheme and said that if negotiations fail; the UK government would pick-up the £155million annual bill. Whitehall promised the transition would be smooth and holidaymakers ‘won’t notice any difference’.

The Association of British Insurers recently released figures showing that over half of all travel insurance claims were for medical treatment (adding-up to £199million a year) with the average pay-out costing £1300 compared to the average policy costing £37.00.


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