European Health Insurance Card: Myths and truths
What is the last thing on your list of things to pack for a European holiday? For me it’s usually the European Health Insurance Card (or EHIC). Through my years of travel I have often wondered if the card would actually work if I was to become ill while abroad. There have been times when I have not travelled with the actual card. But mostly, I pop it into my rucksack as I set off for the airport. It seems it’s the wise thing to do.
What is the EHIC?
The EHIC is a medical health card that offers EU citizens access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area countries (EEA), including Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The card offers free or reduced priced medical services to all holders and can significantly reduce the administration involved in seeking medical assistance while abroad. It was introduced in 2006.
EHIC holders have access to free healthcare across the EU. Not all state provided healthcare is free in the EEA. Many countries have contribution-based systems and holding an EHIC only entitles people to the same level of services and costs offered to nationals of that country.
EHIC holders are able to obtain the same treatments and services provided by NHS. European healthcare systems vary enormously in the services that they provide. Treatments that are readily available and free on the NHS may not be covered in certain countries and may cost a considerable amount of money, even with an EHIC. The NHS provides a country by country breakdown of medical services available around Europe on their website.
The EHIC encourages medical tourism. The EHIC is not designed to encourage medical tourism and, in fact, will not cover the medical expenses of anyone going abroad specifically for treatment. Card holders are encouraged to undergo treatments in their home country, however, pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care can be arranged on the condition that the holder is not visiting the country specifically for the treatment.
An EHIC is an alternative to travel insurance. The EHIC cannot be seen as a replacement or the next best thing to travel insurance. While many insurers now ask that their policyholders also hold an EHIC, the two should not be confused or seen as the same thing.
Why do I need travel insurance if I have an EHIC?
An EHIC does not cover any of the charges involved in mountain rescue, repatriation, multilingual translation services or any additional travel and accommodation costs.
Holidaymakers who find themselves in situations requiring emergency treatments can often accrue enormous hospital bills even when holding an EHIC, if a state funded hospital is not available.
Taking out a travel insurance policy is the only way reduce the costs of unexpected medical bills and ensure complete peace of mind whilst travelling. The UK government strongly advises that travellers hold both a valid EHIC and a private travel insurance policy when travelling anywhere across the EEA.