Here in the UK, Europe is our favourite continent to visit. A 2017 survey by The Economist found that nine of the 10 most popular holiday destinations for British travellers are in Europe, with Italy, France and Spain taking the top three spots.
It’s not hard to understand why; European destinations are just a short flight away and they offer such variety, from snow-capped mountains to golden beaches, fascinating cities and delicious cuisines. It’s clear we love our holidays in Europe, so it’s important to understand how we can ensure we have suitable travel insurance in place when we are there. This is especially vital if you have a pre-existing medical condition or disability.
Unfortunately, 2018 research from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has revealed that 38% of British travellers set off on holiday in the past year with either inadequate travel cover or no cover at all. That equates to 9.9million people. ABTA found that most of these people ended up travelling uninsured because they mistakenly believed their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) would cover them for any medical need they might have while overseas.
European Health Insurance Cards enable UK residents to access free healthcare while visiting countries in Europe. However, whilst getting an EHIC is an essential measure to take ahead of a European trip, an EHIC is no substitute for travel insurance. There are many aspects of travel cover that an EHIC simply does not provide.
Here’s what you need to know about the EHIC vs travel insurance.
What is the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?
Introduced in 2004, the EHIC grants you the right to receive free or reduced-cost medical treatment while you are in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, should you need it. The EEA includes countries in the European Union (EU), as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The countries and principalities not included in the EHIC scheme are Turkey, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Monaco, Vatican City and San Marino.
The EHIC was created due to the fact that a passport is not enough to entitle you to healthcare within these countries. The right to medical care in Europe is based on where you legally reside, and not your country of citizenship, so the EHIC was established to act as a single proof of entitlement that’s valid throughout EEA countries and Switzerland. That said, in some cases, you may be asked for photo ID alongside an EHIC.
You can apply or renew for an EHIC on the NHS Choices website.
What is covered by the EHIC?
The EHIC only covers medical care that is available as statutory in the country in question, so what is covered depends on where in Europe you are visiting. It is important to note that as statutory health care systems vary from country to country, you may not be able to access the care you would expect to for no charge on the NHS. In fact, there are few European countries that offer the same full provision of free healthcare as the NHS.
Medical treatment for pre-existing health conditions and routine maternity care are also covered by the EHIC, as long as you haven’t travelled to Europe just to receive treatment or give birth.
Essentially, the EHIC means that you can access state-provided treatment in participating European countries in the same way that someone who was legally resident there would do, either for free or at a reduced cost. As such, it is important to be aware that, depending on where you are, you may be expected to pay a contribution towards your treatment, the same way a resident would.
What isn’t covered by the EHIC?
The EHIC does not provide the same level of cover as travel insurance. It does not cover private medical treatment, so if you were to be admitted to a private hospital while on holiday, you would be liable to pay for it yourself, if you didn’t have travel insurance.
Needless to say, this could be very expensive! In 2015 a British couple travelling with just EHICs were left with a £2,400 medical bill after one of them received treatment for pneumonia in a private hospital in Spain. In an emergency, there are no guarantees that an ambulance would take you to a state-funded hospital, particularly if a private one was closer or more easily able to provide the right medical care.
The EHIC also does not cover associated costs, such as mountain rescue. This means that if you were to take a skiing holiday and needed an air ambulance to bring you down the mountain after an accident, you would be left with the bill. It’s worth noting that many hospitals in and around ski resorts are private too.
Finally, the other important expense not covered by the EHIC is repatriation. The EHIC does not cover the cost of getting back to the UK if you were not able to travel back as planned, such as in the event of an emergency or after a stay in a hospital. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), an air ambulance back to the UK from Spain can cost £25,000.
How does travel insurance compare to the EHIC?
Unlike the EHIC, travel insurance can provide cover for private medical treatment, associated costs, and repatriation back to the UK. When you consider the relatively low cost of a travel insurance policy, it’s not difficult to see how a small outlay can save you from potentially enormous expenses.
Having said that, not all travel insurance policies offer the same level of cover. At Free Spirit, our specialist travel insurance is specially designed for people of any age who have existing medical conditions and disabilities and includes all of the elements of cover mentioned above, plus much more.
We can provide cover for emergency medical care and any associated costs, repatriation to your home country, personal accident, aftercare at home following a stay in hospital abroad and even for the loss or damage to medical aids, prescribed medications and travel documents.
One of the most important aspects of our specialist travel insurance is cancellation cover, which kicks in as soon as your policy is confirmed*. Our cancellation cover means that you won’t be left out of pocket if you needed to cancel your trip due to your health, and can extend to your travelling companions too, if they’re included on your policy with you.
* please note, if you purchase an annual multi-trip policy, cancellation cover begins on the date you choose to start your policy.
Simply get in touch with us to find out more about our travel insurance for people of any age with medical conditions and disabilities. You can apply for a quote online or speak to one of our friendly, UK-based team on 0800 170 7704 from Monday to Friday, 8am – 6pm, closed Bank holidays.
Will my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) be valid after Brexit?
There is an agreement in place that there should be a transition period after the UK leaves the EU, between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020. This will allow more time for negotiations on the future of the relationship between Britain and the EU.
During this time all EU law will continue to apply in the UK. This means that UK citizens would have exactly the same rights and guarantees as before – so, you’ll still be able to use your EHIC as normal until the end of the transition period, However, although in the Brexit White Paper, the UK government said it wanted “UK and EU nationals to continue to be able to use the EHIC to receive health care should they need it while on holiday” it is unclear what will happen after the transition period.