What cover does the European Health Card provide?

If you’re making a trip to the continent, having a valid EHIC is a must. Valid for five years, the European Health Card is free and entitles UK citizens to medical treatment in the event of an accident or an illness while they are abroad. There can be a lot of confusion, however, about the level of cover the EHIC actually provides. Will it cover treatment for an existing health condition? Does having one mean travel health insurance is not necessary? What happens if I don’t have cover before I travel? Here, we answer the most common queries relating to EHIC cover.

What does the EHIC cover?

The European Health Card will entitle a UK citizen to the same basic healthcare as residents of the country that they are visiting. Bear in mind though that this is NOT always the same standard as in the UK, where the NHS is free at the point of use. If you need to see a dentist in Spain or Switzerland, for instance, you will be expected to pay for treatment and in Cyprus you will be charged for picking up a prescription from a chemist. It’s important, therefore, to check your cover carefully. The main areas of cover you will receive with the EHIC are:

– Any medical treatment that you have to have because of an accident or an illness.

– Cover for a pre-existing medical condition that flares up and requires treatment during your stay.

– Treatment on the same terms as a citizen of the country of your visit. This may mean you have to contribute towards certain services such as dentistry and GP appointments.

– Routine ante-natal care, for instance if you go into labour prematurely. It is forbidden to enter a country with the sole intention of giving birth, however.

– Kidney dialysis and oxygen treatments are covered for patients requiring this care.

What does it not cover?

If you are travelling around Europe, the EHIC will not cover you in the event of you going further afield, nor will it protect you if you are visiting an area within the EU with no state-provided healthcare. In addition, the EHIC does not cover costs relating to being brought back to the UK if you have a serious accident and cannot get onto your commercial flight home. Nor would it airlift you from a mountain-side in the event of a skiing accident.

It is also important to ensure that your EHIC is valid before you travel as an expired card could leave you without cover and potentially stumping up huge medical bills. Additionally, if you don’t have a card, you will always be treated if you need it but there is no guarantee that any of your costs will be covered. The card provides a basic level of cover but really is no substitute for travel health insurance.

Anything else I need to know?

In some countries, such as France, you will be billed when you receive treatment, even with your EHIC. When you return to the UK you can then claim around two-thirds of the money back through the NHS but you will need to keep all of your receipts and invoices. Also remember that the EHIC covers you for state-funded treatment only. It can occasionally be difficult to tell the difference between private and state-funded clinics and surgeries abroad so make sure you check when you arrive or you may face a large bill.

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