Guide to the European Health Insurance Card

An EHIC entitles you to free or discounted medical treatment in Europe. Which? Money experts have put together a 60 second guide to explain how to get your EHIC, what protection it provides and where you’d be able to use it in an emergency.

If you are planning a holiday in Europe this summer, it IS crucial to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you go. The EHIC is free and easy to apply for, but it could provide invaluable help with medical costs should you fall ill while travelling within one of the countries it covers.

The EHIC will last for a maximum of five years, so keep an eye on when yours is due to expire if you already have one. 15 million cards are expected to go out of date before the end of 2011 –

An EHIC entitles the bearer to healthcare in participating countries, with treatment delivered on the same basis (and at the same cost) as for citizens of that state. So if you fell ill while on holiday in France you would be able to access the same medical treatment as any French person.

This does not mean that you are entitled to the same level of treatment, as you would get on the NHS, as you will probably have to pay for a proportion of whatever healthcare you require in a participating country. In France, for example, you may have to pay up-front for many services and seek reimbursement from the local French authority where you had treatment or through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) upon your return to the UK.

EHIC will not provide cover for every medical emergency or expense that might arise while you are on holiday.

EHIC does not cover:

  • Treatment at private clinics
  • 100% of the cost of all state-provided medical treatment. Where the state-funded treatment you may need is not entirely free, your travel insurer will usually pay any outstanding costs
  • Accommodation and repatriation to the UK. If you have to stay abroad while you recover from an illness, or need to be brought back to the UK in an air ambulance, the EHIC will provide no financial help. A good travel insurance policy will cover the cost of staying abroad for longer or repatriation to the UK – with no insurance you could be left with a bill of up to £25,000.

Because healthcare provision across Europe varies greatly by country, your EHIC will entitle you to different things in different countries.

Using your EHIC may not always be straightforward. In some countries, you may have to be assertive in order to use it. It is against European rules to refuse to accept the card-although that argument may cut little ice in certain EU countries.

Always ensure you present your EHIC immediately upon arrival at a hospital or treatment centre. This will also help ensure you do not run into problems when claiming on your travel insurance – particularly if your insurer promises to waive your excess when you use an EHIC.

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Guide to the European Health Insurance Card
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