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What happens if the EHIC won’t cover you while travelling in Europe

Telegraph money reported in March that the European Commission was threatening legal action against Spain, after some hospitals refused to accept the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Some Spanish hospitals are declining to accept the card and insisting holiday makers have to either claim back the cost of medical treatment from their travel insurance, if they have purchased some, or settle the hefty bills out of their own pocket!

As reported in The Daily Telegraph, some hospitals in Greece and Portugal are also refusing to provide free treatment and in some cases, customers are being diverted to private hospitals, who have never accepted the EHIC.

In a statement from the European Commission it said: “The commission is concerned that Spain might be failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law to provide emergency health care to temporary visitors from other member states on the same terms and conditions as are available to Spanish nationals under the public health care scheme”.

Although there are problems being reported, it is still important to ensure you have an up to date card and remember they have to be renewed every 6 years. You can apply for an EHIC online or by calling 0300 330 1350. The card can only be used in public hospitals within the EU member states along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

In the event you do need medical assistance at a hospital or GP practice or even calling an ambulance, it is still worth carrying this card with you at all times, as you never when the unexpected may happen.

NHS Choices advise the European Health Insurance Card will only cover you for the following:

  • Any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, for example because of either illness or an accident.
  • The card gives you access to reduced-cost or free medical treatment from state healthcare providers.
  • It includes treatment of a chronic or pre-existing medical condition that becomes necessary during your visit.
  • It includes routine maternity care (not only because of illness or accident), as long as you’re not going abroad to give birth. However, where the birth happens unexpectedly, the card will cover the cost of all medical treatment for mother and baby that is linked to the birth.
  • The card covers the provision of oxygen and kidney dialysis. You will have to arrange and pre-book these treatments before you go on holiday. You can ask your GP or hospital for advice, but make sure you are not booked with a private healthcare provider as these are not covered by the EHIC.
  • The card also covers routine medical care for people with pre-existing conditions that need monitoring.

However, due to the current problems it would be un-wise to rely solely on the card and we would always suggest that travel insurance is purchased to supplement the benefits of the card. There will be some costs that the card won’t cover like, an air ambulance home if medically necessary or additional accommodation costs if you are unable to return home as planned.

Senior couple at home

Why travel insurance is important

The riskiest part of going on holiday without travel insurance is if you have a medical emergency, the medical costs incurred could be extremely expensive, especially if travelling to the USA. If you need to be medically repatriated back to the UK it could cost you thousands of pounds, unless you are adequately insured. If you choose not to purchase travel insurance, you’ll be covering the medical costs yourself.

Here are some examples of costs to get you home to the UK supplied by the The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and remember the British Embassy or High Commission will not pay for these charges.

  • £2,500 – Cancellation or curtailment/loss of holiday
  • £5,000,000 – Emergency medical and other expenses
  • Repatriation to your home country – automatically included
  • £1,000 – Medical aids
  • £1,500 – Personal baggage

Please read the Policy Booklet for the full terms and conditions of this pre existing medical conditions travel insurance cover to make sure it’s suitable for your needs.