Everything You Need to Know About a European Health Card and Why You Need One
You never know for sure when you are going to be taken ill or suffer an accident and if you are traveling in Europe when this happens you will need medical assistance, but might not have any cover that gives you access to the basic treatment you require.
The purpose of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is to give you access to healthcare if you are classed as a European citizen.
You might want to check out the European health card website for more information on the application process and what’s involved, in the meantime, here is a look at the key points relating to EHIC and what it is designed to do.
Don’t leave home without it
Put simply, it is hard to justify why you would want to travel in Europe without carrying a valid European Health card with you, as it is your passport to get immediate medical help when you need it, either for free or at a reduced cost.
The EHIC is accepted within countries that are part of the European Union and once you have completed your application and received a valid card for travel, you will be able to produce the card in the event of a medical requirement and gain access to a local doctor or be accepted for treatment at a public hospital.
The card has been in circulation for about 15 years and in that time it has provided a vital lifeline to tourists who would otherwise struggle to receive or pay for the medical attention they need when traveling abroad in a European country.
The fundamental idea behind EHIC is that it provides you with the ability to received a level of healthcare that is often equal to the treatment that a local resident would receive.
As you might expect, there are certain restrictions and conditions that apply to cardholders, and you can’t claim assistance for any non-urgent medical treatment that is not immediately essential, for instance.
It is, therefore, considered essential that you understand what EHIC allows you to do and what you need to do to get one in the first place.
Are you eligible?
The first question you will want to know the answer to is whether you qualify for the card and whether your application will be accepted.
If you are classed as a European citizen and are traveling within the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA), plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, you should be considered eligible to apply for the European Health Insurance Card.
You still need travel insurance
EHIC is not intended to replace travel insurance and should not be considered as an alternative, but more as a backup and first-response when you need medical help abroad.
EHIC does not cover the cost of flying you home after an illness or injury, for example, but travel insurance and EHIC should go hand in hand. In fact, a number of travel insurers actually require you to have EHIC before they will agree to give you cover.
Understanding the costs involved
The first point to make is that EHIC is free of charge so it doesn’t cost you anything to make your application directly.
The sensible strategy is to apply for your EHIC well in advance of your travel date and also arrange travel insurance cover afterward so that you have both in place in a time before you leave for the airport and start your journey.
It is also important to understand how it works when you have to use the card and obtain medical assistance and treatment.
In most cases, you will be asked to pay upfront for your medical costs and then make a claim to recover some or all of your costs, assuming your claim is for eligible treatment.
You will need a card for each member of your family who is traveling, so don’t assume that one card covers everyone in your party, even if you are the same family.
How much you pay and what you claim reimbursement for will vary according to the country you are in and their relevant healthcare policy, so some countries will be more patient-friendly than others in terms of what you are charged and what you can claim back via the EHIC scheme.
What about Brexit?
It is relevant to cover the subject of Brexit and how that will affect the UK if and when the country finally leaves the EU.
British citizens should still be able to use EHIC even after Brexit because it is anticipated that the UK will remain a member of the EEA, which subscribes to the European Health Card scheme, as previously mentioned.
Keep an eye on announcements, but as it stands, Brexit shouldn’t mean the end of EHIC for British citizens.
What to do when you need medical help
Carry the card with you while you travel and if you are admitted to a hospital or go to see a doctor you should make the medical staff aware that you have an EHIC so that they can note the details and to enable you to make a claim later.
It is possible that you might be able to see a private doctor under EHIC in some countries, but, generally, it is public health services that you will be entitled to. Don’t be afraid to ask locally about the level of healthcare you are entitled to and whether there is a fee to pay or not.
Once you have received treatment, make sure you ask for a certificate or receipt for the treatment you have had or any payment made.
It is also a normal scenario in some countries that EHIC will only entitle you to cover a percentage of your healthcare costs. In this situation, your provider might ask for a percentage of the total cost, which is not reimbursable.
In summary, EHIC is a vital healthcare ally that you should make use of when traveling in Europe and it could literally be a lifesaver in certain scenarios, so make your application in plenty of time for your next travel date.