Countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) are now required to issue European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs). The cards entitle the bearers to “treatment that becomes medically necessary during a temporary visit to EEA countries or Switzerland” (as per the EHIC website). They have caused some confusion, however, as some travellers and expats have begun treating them as a substitute for health insurance cover. It’s important to remember that an EHIC card is not a replacement for comprehensive health and travel insurance.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the EHIC gives you
- Access to necessary care at state-run medical facilities, including care required for pre-existing conditions and routine maternity care.
- The right to be treated in the same manner as a national of that country. This can be a double-edged sword. If locals are required to make a patient contribution, or co-pay, so are you, though you may be eligible for reimbursement in your home country.
The EHIC is not, however,
- a substitute for travel insurance (for cancelled flights, lost bags, stolen property etc.)
- an absolute guarantee of free medical care, even in emergencies. Some countries have regions with few state medical facilities. In other cases hospitals may use privately-operated ambulance services. Remember: the EHIC is only valid for services offered by state-run healthcare systems. Privately-administered care is not covered. Full stop.
- a replacement for evacuation cover. The EHIC does not cover the cost of emergency evacuations.
It’s also important to remember that the EHIC does not cover travelling abroad for care–medical tourists must shop for insurance. This includes those going abroad to give birth. In the words of the NHS website
To avoid unnecessary private medical bills, always seek out state-provided medical care, and whenever possible present your EHIC before treatment. You will need to be particularly careful if the arrangements have been made by a hotel or travel representative as sometimes they will recommmend a private healthcare provider. You should also always carry details of your travel insurance policy with you.
EU citizens can apply for a EHIC through their national health system. Obtaining the card is free–beware anyone offering to process applications for a fee.
- The EU Commission’s website provides background information on the card and even offers photo examples of EHICs across countries.
- The Telegraph’s Rosie Murray-West breaks down EHIC entitlements and co-pays by country here.
- The NHS website, as mentioned above, provides a wealth of information relevant to all EHIC holders.