Whether the EHIC remains or not, it’s no replacement for travel insurance

The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) has been in the spotlight recently in the wake of the post-Brexit consideration of potential outcomes  following the referendum decision for the UK to leave the European Union.

Without getting into the pro’s and con’s of the decision, there is obviously some confusion and uncertainty, as the UK prepares to negotiate the terms of its exit, with estimates surmising that it may take up to two years for this to be achieved.

There is a chance that the EHIC won’t become a casualty of the UK’s withdrawal, and that residents of the UK will still be able to receive free or reduced-cost healthcare as part of the reciprocal scheme. Iceland and Switzerland have currently made an arrangement which allows their citizens to benefit from this, whilst extending the same benefits to visitors from the EU, who require unexpected medical treatment whilst away, so this may be a possibility.

It would be in the best interests of the countries in the EU to include this benefit in the allowances afforded to the UK, as we return billions in health costs and funding to the EU every year, and millions of Europeans visit our shores, who no doubt benefit from access to the NHS, whilst they are here.

In addition to this, if Brits are denied the benefits of the EHIC which we currently enjoy, then we may well rethink our own holiday destinations and opt to travel outside of Europe instead. At the moment, we take 34 million separate holidays a year in Europe, with Spain being the most popular (13 million visits), France (8.8 million visits), followed by Italy (3.5 million visits)*ABTA. Without the convenience and reassurance of the EHIC, we may be tempted to broaden our horizons, and look further afield to another nation who does offer a reciprocal health agreement with the UK.

At the moment, we can still apply for, and use, the EHIC as normal, and receive the same healthcare benefits that locals would receive – either free or reduced price healthcare. So, here is the lowdown on the EHIC and how it works currently:

The EHIC

– The EHIC is free to apply for, via the NHS Business Services Authority (the NHSBSA), and you can apply for (or renew) an EHIC using the official EHIC online application form. Beware of unofficial websites, which may charge to provide the service, as this isn’t necessary.

 – The EHIC is valid for 5 years away from the UK and offers access to state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country, plus Switzerland. The healthcare is provided on the same basis as it would to a resident of that country (either at a reduced cost, or free).  This may not be as inclusive or as generous as the NHS in the UK.

 – Every family  member requires an EHIC. You can make an application for yourself, your partner and dependent children under 16, after you have got one yourself.

 – The card normally arrives in the post, up to 7 days after you apply. Your details must be kept up-to-date, in order for valid cover to be ongoing.

 – You can use the emergency number 112 for free in all EU/EEA member states

EEA countries where you can use the EHIC:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Estonia, Finland, France, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Germany, Greece, Greek Islands, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Madeira, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Sweden, Switzerland

EEA countries where you can’t use the EHIC:

The Channel Islands including Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, The Isle of Man, Monaco, San Marino, The Vatican

Countries which don’t use the EHIC card, but there is an existing reciprocal agreement regarding healthcare:

Anguilla, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Jersey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Monserrat, New Zealand, St.Helena, Serbia, Turks and Caicos Islands

young injured patient man lying in bed hospital room resting from pain looking in bad health condition after suffering accident in health care concept

Even though it remains ‘business as usual’ for the EHIC card at present, it is very important to bear in mind that it is not a replacement for travel insurance, due to its limitations and restrictions. Despite the acronym EHIC standing for ‘European Health Insurance Card’, this is a misleading moniker as it can’t replace the benefits of cover offered by comprehensive travel insurance. It is advisable for travellers heading to Europe to arrange and take both with them, when they head off, to make the most of what each can offer. An additional benefit of applying for an EHIC, is that many travel insurers will waive the excess off a medical expenses claim, if you have used an EHIC when receiving care.

With regards to medical provision, the EHIC won’t cover private healthcare, mountain rescue,, ambulance charges, repatriation, additional travel and accommodation charges – and also isn’t valid for travellers on a cruise. The big one listed here, is obviously repatriation, as no-one wants to be stuck away from the UK when they have a serious or ongoing medical situation to contend with, especially when you consider the potential costs of financing a flight with any necessary medical equipment and personnel on-hand to get you back to the UK safely.

Despite these very real considerations, there are still those who continue to play Russian-roulette with their finances when they head away, by not bothering to take out travel insurance – and relying on either the EHIC, or simply, their luck not running out.

Current figures from the Association of British Travel Agents points to 20% of British holidaymakers travelling overseas uninsured, with the highest proportion belonging to the 16 – 24 year old age-bracket. This is despite the latest figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) which pinpointed that half a million holidaymakers were helped by travel insurance, in the last year, with the average medical claim racking up to a sobering £1, 200. When you compare this substantial amount, to the average £33 cost of an Annual Multi Trip policy, you can see how making a relatively small saving on travel insurance, can prove to be a false (and very expensive) economy in the long-run.

Last year, insurers helped nearly 500, 000 travellers, and paid out the equivalent of £1 million a day. Of those, 166, 000 travellers needed emergency medical treatment, totalling £196 million. (Figures courtesy of the ABI)

The cover offered under travel insurance for emergency (unexpected) medical expenses whilst away, is the key benefit of any policy, as care can undoubtedly be expensive, and the last thing you need whilst you’re suffering a medical problem whilst away from home, is to also be worrying about how you are going to manage to pay for treatment. As long as you have selected appropriate cover for all of the activities that you plan to do whilst you’re away, and also declared any pre-existing medical conditions, and paid an additional premium if necessary, then travel insurance will foot the bill.

No matter how thoroughly you research the areas you are travelling to, take sensible precautions and get all of the advised inoculations, you can still suffer an unexpected health problem whilst away.  Travel insurance can potentially cover the costs of treatment for altitude sickness, bariatric chamber treatment for suffering ‘the bends’ after a diving incident, the costs of an air ambulance to repatriate you back to the UK for treatment to continue (if appropriate) and also the cost to airlift you off a remote mountainside after a skiing accident.

Instead of being thought of as an optional extra to buy before setting off on your travels, it makes sense to think of travel insurance as an essential purchase to safeguard your finances and ‘future-proof’  against the unexpected (but also very possible) incidents that may crop up as part and parcel of the travelling experience.

Very few people regret buying valid travel insurance, for the peace of mind that it afforded, even if they didn’t need to make a claim, but there are lots (unfortunately) that sorely regret NOT taking out travel insurance, and ultimately paying a heavy price.

Apart from cover for emergency medical treatment and repatriation, travel insurance also offers other key benefits:

 – Cancellation and curtailment – if you are unable to travel as planned or need to return early from your trip (for a reason outlined in your policy wording)

 – Cover for your personal possessions and valuables, if they get lost or stolen.

 – Cover if your passport or personal money gets lost or stolen.

 – Cover if you miss your departure away from the UK, or if your trip away is delayed for over 12 hours

(Check the policy wordings of travel insurance carefully to check the cover, and excess applicable, for a policy that you have bought, or are considering buying, to see exactly what you’re covered for)

The best advice at the moment if you’re heading off on your travels anywhere around the world, is to get travel insurance – and if you’re heading to Europe, then bring your EHIC with you too.

Only time will tell, if UK residents will continue to be able to take advantage of the EHIC card in the future, but it’s a certainty that travel insurance will continue to be needed whether the EHIC survives, or not.

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Take a look at Go Walkabout Travel Insurance’s range of policies here, and take advantage of a 10% discount code, by ‘liking’ our Facebook page . If you’ve got any questions about our policies, please either send us an email on enquiries@go-walkabout.co.uk or give us a ring in our office, which is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, on 01424 223 964

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