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Healthcare Reform - Legal & Policy

Deciphering the European Health Insurance Card

Healthcare Reform - Legal & Policy

There seems to be some confusion in Britain about the exact uses of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The card comes with a number of benefits, but there are also a few points to be aware of.

The EHIC provides travelers from the United Kingdom with healthcare at a reduced cost in other countries around Europe. It covers treatment needed to continue their vacation and covers pre-existing medical conditions.

The facts

The card is free to those eligible for it. All members of the traveling party must have a card. UK residents aged 16 and older can apply for the card online. Parents and guardians can apply for their children under 16.

According to a survey from, 14 percent of Brits have never heard of the EHIC. Additionally, 4 percent believe the card entitles them to free medical care anywhere in the world, 57 percent think the card gives them access to free emergency healthcare anywhere in Europe, and 18 percent claim they know which countries are covered under the EHIC.

But the card provides for healthcare only in all European Economic Area countries, including Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The level of treatment and provision of care will be different from country to country. Residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not eligible for the card.

The survey also showed that 9 percent of Brits don’t buy travel insurance, and 2 percent believe that having an EHIC means they don’t need travel insurance. But the EHIC website states that the card is not an alternative to travel insurance and that it is important to have both.

Why? The card does not cover costs like mountain rescues in ski resorts, emergency flights back to the UK and lost or stolen property. There is also no guarantee that in the event of an emergency the ambulance will take a traveler to a state hospital – often times, private hospitals will not recognize the EHIC. The website also states that some insurance companies now insist that travelers have an EHIC, and many will waive excess fees if you have one.

Medical repatriation

The survey showed that 9 percent of Brits believe that they do not have to pay for transportation back home after an accident if they have an EHIC. As stated above, however, the EHIC does not cover the cost of emergency transportation back to the UK. That is why travel insurance is essential.

An article on the British website Total Investor stated that the treatment for a fractured leg and a nurse-accompanied flight from Austria to the UK costs approximately £5000. These are fees that would have to be covered out-of-pocket or from private insurance.

Concluding advice

Jeremy Cryer, head of travel insurance at said, “It’s possible that the name ‘European Health Insurance Card’ suggests that it provides a greater level of medical coverage than it actually does.”

“Our advice to holidaymakers is to always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure you’re covered for medical treatment and repatriation if necessary. Take an EHIC with you as well, but check what benefits it provides for the country you’re traveling in.

Some insurers will waive their excess for medical treatment claims if you have used your EHIC, but always check the details of the policy so that you fulfill the insurer’s conditions for making a valid claim.”

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