European Health Insurance Card - all you need to know

Before you jet off abroad to the sunshine this year, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card. The EHIC entitles you to state health care in the European country you’re visiting on the same terms as a local resident.

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Unlike in the UK, treatment may not be entirely free, but state medical care will at least be relatively cheap and far cheaper than going to a private doctor or hospital. As well as sudden illness and injury, it also covers treatment for pre-existing medical problems if they suddenly flare up while you’re on holiday, as well as chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes.

Avoid any companies or websites that try to get you to pay to get an EHIC. The card is entirely free to UK citizens through the NHS. You can get it by calling the EHIC line on 0300 330 1350 or by visiting the EHIC area of the NHS website.

You can’t get the card from your doctor or from the Post Office.

There have been problems with the EHIC being accepted in some countries recently.

I’ve heard the EHIC will no longer be accepted

Some cash-strapped European member countries have started trying to avoid accepting the EHIC.

In Spain, there have been problems recently with some hospitals refusing to take the EHIC. Instead they are insisting that people hand over their credit cards and claim the cost of treatment back from their travel insurance.

The European Commission has intervened and told the Spanish government that they must fix the problem or face legal action. The Spanish government has said there’s not a problem but it is co-operating with the Commission.

The difficulties seem to be centred on popular holiday destinations in Catalonia and Andalucia and areas of Alicante, Ibiza, the Costa del Sol and Barcelona. One report said a woman was charged £21,000 for treatment for a twisted bowel in Alicante after her EHIC was rejected.

There have also been a few problems reported by holidaymakers trying to use EHIC cards in parts of Greece too.

The message is to take care if you’re asked to sign anything in a hospital overseas. Some of the Spanish hospitals which have caused difficulties are asking people to sign ‘medical consent forms’ which are actually forms where you’re agreeing to have private treatment.

First, make sure you go to a public hospital rather than a private hospital. If you have to pay before you’ll be treated, report it to the British Embassy while you’re away or the Commission’s Solvit system when you return home.

Who needs an EHIC?

Everyone over the age of 16 should apply for an EHIC before going away. You need one card for each person and it is valid for five years. Around three million cards will expire this year – if you have one of these, don’t forget to renew it. 

For children under 16, a parent needs to apply for one for them when they fill out their own application and they will be given their own EHIC.

Nearly half the adults in the UK don’t have one, so if you’re going to Europe this year make sure you get one.

Don’t leave it until the last minute: it takes about 7 to 10 working days to come through. You need to take your card with you when you pack. If you’ve lost it you can call the EHIC line (0300 330 1350) to get a replacement. To call from abroad the number is 0044 191 218 1999.

The card can be used in 30 countries – all the 27 members of the European Union and a few others who aren’t members such as Switzerland and Iceland. A full list of all the countries where the EHIC is accepted is at the end of this article.

Not only will it give you free or seriously discounted medical treatment while you’re on holiday, an EHIC card could also save you money on your travel insurance.

Do I still need travel insurance if I have an EHIC?

Yes, the EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance. It will only cover you for emergency treatment while you’re away whereas travel insurance will also pay for you to fly home if you need to in a medical emergency. 

Travel insurance also covers you for a whole range of other problems such as lost or stolen baggage, if you lose cash, getting you back home in the event that your package holiday company or airline goes bust and if you have to cancel your trip.

If you’re doing risky sports such as scuba diving, you need travel insurance that includes cover for these activities.

Travel insurance is remarkably cheap, particulalry if you’re going to Europe, and medical treatment is so expensive in America you can’t afford to skip taking out cover.

The countries covered by the EHIC

You should be treated for free or for the same cost as a local in a public hospital or under the state health system in:

 Austria  Denmark  Greece  Latvia  Netherlands  Slovak Republic
 Belgium  Estonia  Hungary  Liechtenstein  Norway  Slovenia,
 Bulgaria  Finland  Iceland  Lithuania  Poland  Spain
 Southern Cyprus  France  Republic of Ireland  Luxembourg  Portugal  Sweden
 Czech Republic  Germany  Italy  Malta  Romania  Switzerland

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