The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a ‘must-pack’ item for anyone travelling abroad. It’ll give you access to the same level of state medical care as the residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) country you’re in and what’s more, it’s completely free!
The EHIC is an incredibly useful piece of plastic but there’s still quite a lot of confusion surrounding it. Research in July, 2016, by Gocompare.com travel insurance found that 70% of British holidaymakers overestimate the benefits of the EHIC. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the common misconceptions about the EHIC.
Myth one: Brexit means that the EHIC is no longer valid
The EHIC is an initiative of the European Economic Area (EEA) rather than the European Union (EU), so whether or not UK citizens will continue to benefit from the EHIC depends on how deep Brexit goes.
Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the EEA but not the EU and all three accept the EHIC. Switzerland is neither a member of the EU or the EEA but still accepts the EHIC as part of the single market.
For now, nothing will change until negotiations to separate the UK from the EU are concluded, which could be two years or more.
Myth two: You don’t need travel insurance if you have an EHIC
Your EHIC lets you access medical treatment at state-run clinics and hospitals in Europe at the same cost as a resident of that country would pay. This usually means it’ll be free or far cheaper than private health costs in most cases.
However, few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment as we get with the NHS. For example, in France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor up front, then have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later.
There are also no guarantees that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for emergency treatment, and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are private. If you end up at a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be accepted.
Think of the EHIC as complementing your travel insurance rather than replacing it, otherwise you could be bringing a large medical bill home with you as a souvenir
Myth three: If I’m injured on holiday my EHIC will fly me home
Medical repatriation can be seriously expensive and unfortunately, the EHIC is of no use at all.
According to one insurer, the cost of flying a seriously ill British holidaymaker home from the Canary Islands by jet air ambulance was nearly £23,000.
The British government generally doesn’t pay for holidaymakers to be flown home unless there are very unusual circumstances.
In most cases the cost of medical repatriation will be covered by a reasonable travel insurance policy but without that cover, friends and family may end up footing the bill to get you home.
Myth four: You have to pay for an EHIC
The best thing about the EHIC is that it’s completely free, but that hasn’t stopped some unscrupulous characters offering to ‘arrange’ your EHIC application for the bargain price of £35.
You can apply for an EHIC yourself on the NHS website. It only takes five minutes and won’t cost you a penny.
Myth five: An EHIC covers you anywhere in the world
The clue is in the name, but research revealed that 6% of Brits believed that their EHIC would get them free emergency medical treatment anywhere in the world.
For everything you need to know about the EHIC and travel insurance see this guide.
Have you encountered any holiday myths and discovered their truths? Do share them in the comments below.