What impact will Brexit have on the European Health Insurance Card?
The short answer to the question posed in the title, which many British holidaymakers will be asking, is that, at present, no-one knows for sure.
One thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that British citizens’ EHIC cover did not automatically disappear when the results of last week’s referendum were announced. It will remain valid until the date when the United Kingdom officially withdraws from the EU; this date has not been set but is expected to be two years to the day after Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the clause which deals with a country’s withdrawal from the EU – is invoked. Article 50 has not yet been invoked, and is not expected to be invoked until after Mr Cameron’s successor as Prime Minister has been appointed.
EHIC isn’t an EU scheme per se
It should be noted that the EHIC scheme applies not to the EU but the European Economic Area (EEA), a wider group of countries which consists of EU member states and a small number of European countries which participate within the single market without being members. These are Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (Switzerland, which is not in the EEA but nevertheless has agreed access to the single market, is also covered).
The UK’s various options for future medical cover
Should the UK leave the EU but remain a member of the EEA, the existing agreement would most likely remain in place. However, EEA membership requires free movement of people, goods and services between member states, and this could be a deal-breaker in the current climate. The subject of renegotiating medical cover for British citizens in EU and EEA countries could be part of the exit negotiations, or could form the basis of separate negotiations with individual member states. The UK already has reciprocal medical cover deals with a number of non-EU countries, including Australia, Israel, Serbia and New Zealand. Prior to the UK joining what was then the EEC in 1973, there had also been bilateral deals with many European countries.
If you’re going away this summer, you’ll still be able to take advantage of free or discounted healthcare abroad, should you need it. Ensure you renew your EHIC now – it might be the last time you have to!