Travelling overseas can be an expensive business if medical assistance is needed. Even those with travel insurance cover can find themselves out of pocket when the excess levied by the insurer is taken into account. It is thus advisable for anyone planning to take a trip within Europe to first avail themselves of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) available free of charge to residents of the U.K. and other European nations.
Whilst the EHIC is not a general travel insurance card what it does offer is reduced, or free state health care assistance, in all European area countries and Switzerland. Card holders are entitled to receive the same state health care as the residents of the country they visit. Private treatment is not included, and card holders cannot plan a trip abroad specifically for medical treatment. However any accidents or emergencies are covered, along with health cover for typical holiday ailments or mishaps.
As the EHIC allows free treatment in some European countries it is much easier to use than filing an insurance claim, but should not be relied on instead of travel insurance. If an incident occurs which requires a doctor’s prescription then the card will enable the medicine to be purchased at the same discounted rate that members of the country are entitled to. However the difference may be reimbursed on return to home.
As an example of charges for prescriptions in two popular holiday destinations, travellers to Greece will pay 25 per cent of prescription charges and 40 per cent in Spain. The National Health Service provides a full list of countries and coverage here. In instances where treatment is not provided free of charge then travellers can recoup their costs on their return to the U.K. or other home country.
One thing to be careful of is using doctors called out by hotels or holiday representatives. Often private doctors are called and private medical attention is not covered by the EHIC. Costs incurred for private treatment are non-refundable.
The EHIC replaces the old E111 card, and can be applied for or renewed here. Applicants need to provide their National Health Insurance number. Some insurance companies are now insisting that travellers carry the EHIC with them, and will waive the excess charged if medical attention is needed. The EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance and should not be relied on in place of travel insurance. It is advisable though to take the card along on any European travel as a sensible precaution which could well save the day if needed.