The UK is firmly on a path to leaving the European Union. Despite the recent General Election result which appeared to spark confusion over what type of divorce we’d be having from the other countries in the European Union, it appears that we’ve started on a path which we can’t turn back from. Negotiations with the other countries which make up the EU are to get underway soon, and the process has to be completed by April 2019, at which point the UK will no longer be a member of the EU. Brexit often seems very remote from our everyday lives in the UK but one of the issues which is going to affect millions of holidaymakers and business travellers is EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card scheme.
Health Select Committee
The government has many issues to consider when it comes to Brexit, and has said very little on the EHIC topic so far. The only intervention to date has come from the Health Select Committee, which raised the issue of EHIC cover for British people visiting our European neighbours and urged the government to give guarantees that the EHIC agreement would continue. Of especial concern to the Health Committee are people who have conditions such as diabetes, who can currently use EHIC to get treatment for their condition should they fall ill in one of the EEA countries. Travel insurance for people with diabetes and similar conditions can be hugely expensive, and MPs are concerned that these costs could prohibit travel.
Post Brexit Scenario 1 – System Retained
Many travellers are hoping that as part of the Brexit negotiations, the UK government can convince the rest of the EEA member states to keep the system as it is. If this happens, little will change from a practical perspective. You’ll still apply for your EHIC in the same way, still show it when you need to receive treatment overseas, and still be able to get state health care across the EEA. This is the best-case scenario for everyone in both the UK and the rest of the EEA.
Post Brexit Scenario 2 – Country by Country Agreement
If we don’t manage to agree an EEA-wide continuation of EHIC, it is possible that this could be done on a country by country agreement. This is something the UK government is already doing – we have reciprocal health agreements of this type in place with Australia and New Zealand. The downside is that it’s far more complicated and time consuming to negotiate 27 different contracts as it is to negotiate one, and different agreements is going to cause confusion.
It’s Not All About the UK
When discussing Brexit, it’s easy to assume it’s all about the UK. With the UK being one of the most visited countries in Europe, it’s in the interests of the EEA as a whole to get a simple agreement. UK people may not want to lose their EHIC cover, but German businessmen and French school parties also want a continuation of cover when they come to the UK also.