With the summer holiday period fast approaching, thousands of Europeans will be looking forward to trips abroad. Ahead of the summer season, the European Commission (EC) has told holidaymakers to take full advantage of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) while abroad.
The EHIC allows holders access to medical treatment at the same cost as locals when travelling within the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland. According to an official statement, almost 200 million Europeans have the card as of 2013. This represents more than half of the insured population in the EU.
The latest figures show the number of EHIC holders is steadily increasing, with 8 million more citizens carrying it in 2013 than in 2012. Laszlo Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, commented, “Just as many people are planning to leave on their summer holidays, it is encouraging to see that more and more people have a EHIC. The increasing number of citizens obtaining the card demonstrates the confidence in the EHIC system and the recognition of the protection it provides.”
Travellers should be aware of the limitations of the EHIC however, and note it isn’t a replacement for travel insurance. EHIC entitles you to access medical care with the same rights as a local, however, it doesn’t cover the following:
- medical repatriation
- private health care costs
- costs incurred for delays
- lost or stolen property
- return flights home
- the costs if you travel abroad expressly to receive medical care (medical tourism)
If you are planning on staying abroad long-term then the EHIC will not cover you as it is only for emergency or unplanned treatment, it is not a form of international medical insurance. Expats should also note all members of the family must have their own card, including children. In addition, if you move countries your old EHIC will no longer be valid and you must request one (free of charge) from the country you are resident in.
For full coverage and peace of mind tourists should always take out a travel insurance policy in addition to carrying an EHIC. Travellers should also note the EHIC does not guarantee free treatment, costs vary depending on the health system of the country you’re travelling to.
Hospitals which provide public healthcare are obligated to recognise the EHIC. There have be cases of the cards being refused, notably in Spain, however, the majority of times the patient receives treatment and is reimbursed without any problems.
Travellers can now download an EHIC app for free, available on all major smartphone platforms. Available in 25 languages, it includes information about the card, emergency numbers, treatments covered and how to claim reimbursement.