A European Health Insurance Card entitles you to state provided healthcare at a reduced cost, or sometimes free, while you are staying within the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA consists of all 28 member states of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. There is some uncertainty following the UK’s eligibility for the EHIC following the decision to leave the EU, following the referendum in June, but when Switzerland, who are not a part of the EU or the EEA, have bilateral agreements with the EU to offer an EHIC, there is still a strong possibility that the UK will continue to offer the card as normal.
Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it is important to renew your EHIC just in case anything should happen while you are on holiday, or visiting Europe on business. Anyone who carries an EHIC will be entitled to healthcare on the same basis as any resident of the country that you are visiting. Some European countries offer healthcare for free while others expect their patients to pay a small percentage towards their medical treatment, this is known as patient co-payment. If you receive treatment in this way, you will be expected to pay a contribution as though you were a resident of the country.
Once approved, your European Health Insurance Card will also cover you for any pre-existing medical ailments, this includes routine maternity care, as long as you’re not heading to Europe specifically to give birth or deliberately seek treatment.
An EHIC is not at alternative to travel insurance and is only to cover the costs of medical bills. It is also not designed to cover private medical costs including mountain rescue from ski resorts, being flown back to the UK or lost and stolen property. As a result, it is important to have your own travel insurance to supplement the EHIC. In many cases, insurance companies have been known to waive the excess where the patient has had an EHIC as well.
Each European health card is only valid for one person, so if you are travelling on a family holiday, it is essential that everybody in your party has their own EHIC. As well as applying for your own, you can apply on behalf of your spouse and children.