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The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – A substitute for travel insurance?

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For travellers and holidaymakers headed to Europe you will no doubt already have, or have been recommended to apply for, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). But what is it? And when and where can you use it?

What is the EHIC?

There is a huge amount of confusion amongst holiday makers over the European Health Insurance Card and its services.

An EHIC gives users state-funded healthcare throughout the European Economic area, not just the European Union. You can apply for it, for free, in the UK before you leave.

An EHIC does not entitle you to free NHS-style medical care across these European countries. With your card, medical treatment can be free, but in many countries it is only offered at a reduced cost. The European Health Insurance Card does cover treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care, as long as the reason for your visit is not specifically to give birth.

How can I use the EHIC?

In a recent Post Office Travel Insurance Survey, over half of those surveyed said that they had encountered problems when they had tried to use the card to cover medical treatment.

With over a third of holiday makers suffering injuries which total to over £1 billion, it’s important to understand the rules of the EHIC before you travel to make sure you aren’t caught out.

Many people don’t know that you are able to use your European Health Insurance Card for non-emergency treatment. However, it is wrongly assumed that your EHIC will cover the cost of your return flight to the UK. The EHIC also only covers you for state treatment not private health care, and this includes things like mountain rescue in ski resorts.

In the same Post Office survey, of the people who had tried to use their card for medical treatment whilst abroad, 57% had run into problems that had cost them money. 19% had to pay towards the cost of their treatment; 15% had to pay their entire bill; 15% had their EHIC accepted but had to claim on their insurance for repatriation back to the UK; and 10% had tried to use their card in a country outside of the EHIC scheme.

Common holiday medical incidents such as animal bites, insect, jellyfish or stingray stings, may cost an average of £47 for treatment, whilst bad cases of sunstroke, sunburn, food poisoning, or a bathroom fall, can reach well over £150. More serious accidents can head into the thousands of pounds, and if you aren’t covered by your EHIC, or if you don’t have a valid insurance policy, this will be coming out of your own pocket.

Do I need a private travel insurance policy with my EHIC?

In short, yes. The card is not a substitute for travel insurance.

However, the European Health Insurance Card is still an important part of your travel documentation when you are abroad in Europe. Some hospitals will only accept an EHIC and without one you will need to pay. If you have a private insurance policy this expense can be claimed back when you return, but in the mean time you may have to foot the bill.

It’s important to remember that, unlike a travel insurance policy, with the EHIC you are not covered for lost or stolen property, cancellation or curtailment, legal expenses, or private health care; and you may also find yourself in a position where you need to pay additional costs for any medical treatment you receive.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Click the image to apply for your European Health Insurance Card (image from NHS.UK)
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