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European Health Insurance Card
By Mark Hooson
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaces the E111, gives UK residents access to state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EAA) countries at a reduced cost or sometimes for free.
Armed with your EHIC card, the UK healthcare system will cover the costs of any unexpected medical treatment you needs as a result of accident or illness. It even covers pre-existing medical conditions.
The EHIC only applies to state care however. Private healthcare providers in the EAA are not covered.
What countries are covered under the EHIC?
The EHIC is valid only in the EAA. This is a free trade zone between countries of the European Union (EU) and also includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The European Health Insurance Card will not be recognised in any country outside the EEA.
What does the EHIC cover?
Your EHIC might not cover everything that would be free on the NHS.
Standard treatment between European countries varies but, basically, the card will provide you with the same treatment as a resident of the country you are visiting. You can see a list of treatments available in each country by visiting ehic.org.uk
The European Health Insurance Card also covers routine maternity care, on the clear condition you are not going abroad to give birth. But if the birth comes earlier than planned, it will cover the cost of all related medical treatment for both mother and baby.
When it comes to cost, treatment will be free in some countries while in others, you may have to pay a patient contribution known as a 'co-payment'. It might be possible to get a refund for this when you arrive back in the UK if one was not available abroad.
Do I need an EHIC if I have travel insurance?
While the EHIC will provide some cover, there is no such thing as EHIC travel insurance.
For example, the EHIC will not cover you for repatriation to the UK if your illness or accident is very serious, which alone can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Nor will the EHIC cover you for the whole host of other events that could go wrong when travelling abroad, such as lost or stolen luggage, cancellations and delays.
So while your European Health Insurance Card is a necessary addition to your travel wallet, it is crucial that you are also covered with the right travel insurance policy, whether this is a single trip or multi-trip package.
EHIC plus travel insurance is the safest and only option for European travellers.
How do I apply for the EHIC?
You can apply for your EHIC card at a whole host of different websites, but many are just set up to make money.
Actually the EHIC card is completely free so make sure you apply through the government's own dedicated website at ehic.org.uk.
Alternatively, you can call the NHS's dedicated EHIC phone line on 0845 606 2030, although this is not a free number.
An example of a EHIC
Bear in mind the EHIC expires every five years so make sure yours is in date before setting off.