The European Commission says that the number of Europeans using the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) has topped 180 million people. The card was introduced in 2004.
The card allows anybody insured by a member state of the European Union to easily obtain free or discounted healthcare while on a temporary visit to another member state, although some countries require the patient to pay towards their treatment. The card now allows access to state provided healthcare to all European Union countries as well as countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, bringing the total to 31 participating countries.
EHIC is only of use if you fall sick or injured while on a temporary visit, and is not designed for people traveling o get medical, cosmetic or dental treatment outside their own country.
Even now the EHIC is only carried by about 30% of the EU population. While some countries have incredibly high numbers of the population carrying the EHIC, such as Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria, all of which have over 95% of the populace holding the EHIC, people in other countries seem to ignore it. In Greece, only 1% of the population holds the card.
As only 30% of Europeans have the card, the European Commission is running an information campaign as well as warning people going on summer vacation in Europe not to leave home without their EHIC.
The EC is also warning people to make sure they take private travel insurance with them, as there are many occasions and services that the EHIC will not cover. The European Health Insurance Card will not cover the costs of any flights if you happen to be in a medical situation where you may need to be repatriated to your home country.
There are a number of countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal that require you to pay either a percentage of the costs or a fixed charge for different medical services, even if you present your valid EHIC. These may include costs for any prescriptions you receive, visits to the doctors and hospital stays.
To show how important travel insurance is if you fall ill while traveling; in France you may be required to pay for up to 45% of prescription costs, 30% of out patient visits to the doctor and a daily fixed charge for stays in French hospitals as well as having to pay a non-refundable 25% of the treatment costs in hospital. So even with your EHIC in your pocket, a good travel insurance plan is still the best way to protect yourself from the costs of any unforeseen circumstances.
The European Health Insurance Card is FREE from the NHS. There are criminal websites offering the EHIC for money.
Travel insurance: News update: 8 February 2010