Since the UK took the decision to leave the EU at the end of June last year, we’ve been in political limbo. Everyone else in Europe knew that we were planning to leave, the UK government confirmed they were committed to leaving, but the official notification hadn’t been given. 9 months after the referendum, Theresa May finally took the step of triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the legal term for starting the process of telling the EU President that the UK would be leaving the EU, and starting a two year period of negotiation before the divorce is complete.
Business As Usual
Although the Brexit process is well underway, at the moment the situation is very much still business as usual. Travellers heading to Spain, Greece or Poland this summer should still take EHIC cover paperwork with them for themselves and their family, and will still be able to use their EHIC to allow them access to state healthcare across the EU. As the negotiations progress, the EHIC entitlement should not change, so travel throughout 2018 should be covered too. Renew your card now if it’s about to expire to ensure continuity of cover. It’s only at the point of breaking away legally from the EU, sometime in the early spring of 2019, that the situation with EHIC becomes unclear. So the advice for the near future is clear; know your rights, know what EHIC does and does not entitle you to depending on the country you will be visiting, and don’t be fobbed off by hotel staff or hospital administrators overseas who tell you that your card no longer works.
Part of the Brexit negotiations will be around reciprocal healthcare. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact EU nationals who unexpectedly fall ill in the UK can access care from the NHS, so it stands to reason that the EU countries may want to keep the arrangement as it is as it of benefit to their citizens too. Brexit negotiations are looking at so many issues from trade deals to fishing rights, import duties and tricky situations such as the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, that the worry is that negotiations over EHIC will be at the bottom of the diplomatic “to do” list. Announcements will be made, although you might have to scan the travel pages of the newspapers to find them.
Even if the UK is unable to come to an arrangement with the EU as a whole to carry on with a system similar to EHIC, the UK government would be free to negotiate country-specific agreements with EU members, especially those which see the largest numbers of UK visitors. We already have this type of agreement with Australia, New Zealand and some Caribbean islands. The difficulty with this system is that there will not be one card and one system as there is at present, and British travellers may be more confused than at present about what they are entitled to and what has to be paid for.