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Holidaymakers risk big medical bills

47% of holidaymakers believe the EHIC gives them free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe and 6% believe cardholders get free medical repatriation, says research from Gocompare.

9% believe that having an EHIC means they can be flown back to the UK from Europe by air ambulance for free if seriously ill or injured.18% have never heard of a European Health Insurance Card .6% believe that having an EHIC means they do not need travel insurance when travelling in Europe.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a must have for travellers to Europe. But the research shows there is considerable confusion as to what benefits the EHIC does and does not provide. Many wrongly believe having an EHIC makes travel insurance unnecessary while holidaying in Europe and risk being landed with big holiday medical bills should they have an illness or accident abroad.

3% have tried to use an EHIC abroad only for it to be rejected by the clinic or hospital they attended.

The cost for medical treatment abroad can be eye-wateringly high and if the treatment is not covered by an EHIC the financial impact can be huge.

Real examples:

  • One night in a ward of a private Spanish hospital - £800
  • Treatment for a broken ankle in Tenerife - £7000
  • Treatment for multiple injuries after being hit by a car in Greece - £21,000

These were all real claims fortunately paid out under travel insurance policies so the insurer picked up the bills. Without insurance many travellers may end up having to pay for their own expensive accidents.

An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the country they are in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including Switzerland. The EEA includes all 27 members of the European Union plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EHIC is not accepted in Turkey, as it is not a member of the EU or the EEA.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country and does not mean you can expect to be treated as you would if you visited your UK doctor or hospital. Few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment as on the NHS. In France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

In the event of an emergency, there is no guarantee that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for treatment and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are privately run. If you go or are taken to a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be of any benefit at all.

In really serious circumstances the patient may have to be transferred to a UK hospital under medical supervision. The cost of flying one seriously ill British holidaymaker home from the Canary Islands by jet air ambulance was nearly £23,000.

An EHIC does not cover the cost of medical repatriation from any destination and the government does not pay for British holidaymakers to be flown home following accidents.

Tourists who need medical treatment and repatriation risk incurring huge bills if they have no travel insurance.

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Holidaymakers risk big medical bills
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