European Health Insurance Card: Everything You Need To Know About EHIC
Posted on 4/07/2017 by
The government has promised the EHIC will not be compromised by Brexit.
What will happen to the EHIC after Brexit?
The Government has promised the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) won’t be a casualty of Brexit. But how does the card work – and what pitfalls await the unwary and unprepared?
What is an EHIC?
The European Health Insurance Card replaced the old E111 certificate in 2005. This free card gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any of the other 27 EU countries, as well as Switzerland and the European Economic Area (EEA) nations of Norway, Iceland and plucky Liechtenstein.
The benefits include GP visits and in-patient hospital stays (though the EHIC is not valid if you travel abroad specifically for medical treatment). Most countries have a health system that is similar to the NHS, except that you may be expected to pay a small proportion of the cost of treatment – for example, to see a GP. You may also have to pay upfront for care, and then claim back when you return home. The NHS provides good online information on the policies and charges in each of the partner countries.
Do I still need travel insurance for Europe?
Some people regard the EHIC as providing all the cover they need. They are happy to forego travel insurance benefits such as emergency airlifts, delay and cancellation protection and cover against loss or theft. But the NHS points out: “The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs.”
Brexit fears for UK tourists as millions of EHIC cards due to expire
When seeking treatment, it is essential to make sure you are treated in the public health system, not as a private patient. Because the two categories are often co-sited on the same premises, take care (if your condition allows) to ensure that you are being treated as an EHIC patient.
In the past, some British travellers seeking treatment in Spain and elsewhere have been asked to sign forms that signal their agreement to private care, at a possible cost of thousands of pounds.
Does the EHIC cover everywhere in Europe?
No. Key omissions include the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican. If these places figure in your travel plans, then you should seriously consider travel insurance.
While the former Yugoslavian republics of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are outside the EU and the EEA, the UK has reciprocal health-care agreements which work like the EHIC.
Further afield, there are similar bilateral arrangements with other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, for which the EHIC is not required. Note, however, that these treaties do not cover the journey between the UK and Australasia.
How do I get an EHIC?
Carefully. If you search online and don’t pay attention, you can get directed to one of several official-looking sites that charge a fee (£34.50 in the case of “EHIC Direct) for doing very little; ehic.org.uk is the website you want. This is the fastest way to apply, but if you prefer you can call 0300 330 1350.
The card is valid for five years. You can apply for a replacement after four years and six months, which may be convenient and is certainly a better idea than letting the old one run out while you are abroad.
I paid to obtain an EHIC - can I get my money back?
What if I lose the EHIC?
If it happens while you are in the UK, just apply for a new one. If you lose it abroad and need treatment, call the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 and ask for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC). You’ll need to provide your National Insurance number, as well as the email address (or, quaintly, the fax number) for the specific department of the hospital or clinic where you are receiving treatment.
“This will give you the same cover as an EHIC until you return home,” says the NHS. The PRC is also an alternative if you haven't actually got around to applying for an EHIC. The card is simply a shorthand for telling medical professional abroad: “This person qualifies for reciprocal health care.”
My travel insurance policy says that I have to carry a valid EHIC when on holiday in the EU, or I will have to pay a substantial excess on a medical claim. Why?
Because if you are being treated under EHIC terms, the cost exposure that your insurer faces is drastically reduced. Most travel insurers recognise that there may be extreme circumstances in which you are unable to insist on being treated in the public system, but they want to incentivise you to act in their interests if possible.
What happens to the EHIC after Brexit?
No one knows, but the prospects for continuation look more optimistic than they did. At a Brexit Select Committee session earlier this year, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said he thought the EHIC would “probably” disappear for UK citizens. If it were to end, travel insurance premiums would rise in line with the cost of claims. Older people, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions, would be disproportionately affected.
But now it appears Mr Davis has decided that EHIC benefits should continue beyond Brexit. He said that if agreement on a continuation of the system with the EU cannot be agreed, then the UK would provide one “unilaterally”.