The European Health Insurance Card (also known as the EHIC or European medical card) is designed to allow you to access free or discounted medical treatment while abroad in countries in the European Economic Area or Switzerland. The EHIC card can be used to access medical care in the event of an emergency, to receive treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and to obtain maternity care. However, you cannot go abroad with the express purpose of receiving medical treatment and use your EHIC card to pay less for this treatment. Because the EHIC card only covers state-provided healthcare, you will also not be able to use it to obtain treatment privately while abroad. In order to help you understand the limitations of the EHIC card, we will discuss each of the problems that the EHIC card is designed to help you with in detail.
Medical treatment that becomes necessary while abroad
If you are injured or become seriously ill while abroad, you will be able to use your EHIC card to obtain medical treatment at a reduced rate or for free. However, you cannot go abroad specifically to use the EHIC card to obtain reduced-rate treatment for injuries that you sustained in your home country or illnesses that you contracted in your home country. If you attempt to do this and you are not in immediate danger from your injury or illness, you may not be able receive any medical treatment until you return to your home country. If you do receive medical treatment, you will be charged as if you didn’t have an EHIC.
There are occasions when you may be able to use your European health card to receive treatment for injuries or illnesses that you received in your home country, provided you did not go abroad specifically to do so. If an injury that you were recovering from unexpectedly becomes worse or an illness that you thought was quite mild becomes serious, you may be able to use your EHIC card to receive treatment. This is because the medical situation for which you need treatment would have occurred abroad, even though the injury or illness was first encountered at home. It is also because you would not have gone abroad with the express intention of seeking medical assistance.
The EHIC card be used to obtain treatment for chronic illnesses at a reduced price, even if you know you will need this treatment before you leave your home country. In fact, you may need to actively make arrangements for your treatment while abroad in advance. However, you should not plan a trip abroad with the express purpose of using your EHIC card to gain access to reduced-rate medical treatment. The EHIC card covers pre-existing medical conditions in order to allow individuals with chronic illnesses to travel abroad for business, leisure or personal reasons. It is not intended to allow individuals to travel abroad specifically to receive treatment.
Childbirth and maternity care
If you need to give birth while travelling abroad, the EHIC card will enable you to receive the appropriate care at a reduced rate, provided you did not go abroad expressly to give birth. The European Health Insurance Card covers care during childbirth so that you can travel abroad while pregnant without having to worry about whether you’ll be able to get the care you need if you go into labour unexpectedly. It cannot be used to help with the cost of a birth that is planned to take place in another country.
In summary, the EHIC card enables you to receive treatment on the same basis as the residents of the country you are visiting, provided you did not travel there with the primary intention of seeking medical care. Ergo, you cannot use your EHIC card to go abroad specifically for medical treatment.