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Travel insurance and EHIC cards

What is an EHIC card?

It is important to carry the European Health Insurance Card, which replaced form E111 in January 2006, because it offers free or reduced-price hospital treatment across Europe. Some insurers insist you carry the EHIC, as they can reclaim some of their costs if you use it. The EHIC will cover you for pre-existing medical conditions, which your insurer may have excluded. 

What it covers

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to get state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or sometimes free of charge.

You can apply for the card free of charge on the official EHIC website (www.ehic.org.uk). The card is valid for up to five years.

Even if you don't plan to travel in the near future, it's a good idea to get one. Find out how to renew or apply for a free EHIC.

Each country's healthcare system is slightly different. Therefore, your EHIC might not cover everything that would be free on the NHS. However, you should be able to get the same treatment as a resident of the country you are visiting.

In some countries, you may have to pay a patient contribution, also known as a co-payment. You may be able to get a refund for these payments when back in the UK if you could not do so in the country where you were treated, but this is not easy.

The EHIC will cover any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, for example because of either illness or an accident. (In an emergency you can dial the European emergency number 112 from any telephone or mobile phone).

The card gives access to reduced-cost or free medical treatment from state healthcare providers.

It includes treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit.

It includes routine maternity care (not only because of illness or accident), as long as you are not going abroad to give birth. However, where the birth happens unexpectedly, the card will cover the cost of all medical treatment for mother and baby that is linked to the birth.

The card covers the provision of oxygen and kidney dialysis. You will have to arrange and pre-book these treatments before you go on holiday. You can ask your GP or hospital for advice, but make sure you are not booked with a private healthcare provider as these are not covered by the EHIC.

The card also covers routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring.

With an EHIC card, why do I still need travel insurance?

The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. Therefore, it is important to have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy. Some insurers now insist you hold an EHIC and many will waive the excess if you have one.

You need both the EHIC and insurance to be fully covered. Fewer than 60 countries have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK. If you are travelling to a country within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may be covered under the E111 scheme for emergency treatment. However, cover varies from country to country. In some countries, you may be required to pay for the cost of medicines or to pick up the bill for your hospital bed.

What is not covered

The EHIC will not cover your medical expenses if you are going abroad specifically to have treatment (including giving birth).

You may not be able to use the card in some parts of the EEA as state-provided healthcare may not be available.

The EHIC does not cover:

  • repatriation to the UK
  • bills if you use a private medical clinic
  • private ambulance
  • incidentals such as accommodating a relative in a nearby hotel

All of which a good insurance policy will cover. Covering the cost of treatment abroad is very expensive, especially in the United States, and buying travel insurance with good quality cover should be a priority. It will also help cover the cost of replacing your belongings if they are stolen, cancellations and delays.

Claiming refunds

Some European health systems expect you to pay your bill when you are treated and then claim a refund using your EHIC. Try to apply for your refund before you return home. Remember to keep all receipts and any paperwork (make copies if necessary).

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