Even if you’ve applied for an EHIC or have had one for many years, the chances are that you are still a little unclear about what EHIC cover will get you. A survey carried out by an internet price comparison website in summer 2016 found that 70% of travellers misunderstood what their rights were using EHIC should they fall ill overseas. Are you one of them?
EHIC Doesn’t Mean Free Treatment
The most common misunderstanding about EHIC is that it’s a “free treatment” card which can be used by UK residents to get treatment in Europe. This is not the case. It’s easy to see how this misunderstanding has come about as the NHS is free at point of care here in the UK. The idea behind EHIC is that it puts you in the same position as a resident of the country you’re visiting, and very few countries in Europe offer totally free healthcare. So if someone in Norway has to pay to see their GP, or if you’re asked to pay a “board and lodging” charge when admitted to hospital in France you will still have to pay these charges, even though it’s not something we are used to in the UK.
Every European country has a different state healthcare system, and what is provided free and what carries a charge will vary. There is lots of information on both NHS and foreign state health websites to read before you travel so you are prepared should the worst happen. In some countries such as France, even with EHIC you will have to make payments upfront and then claim a proportion of them back while still in France. In other countries, you will be charged a contribution towards every test or treatment which you have. If you are unsure about charges or what is free and what is not, try to speak to a hospital administrator or nurse in English. Do your homework before you travel, and in an emergency show your EHIC and insist that you are taken to a state hospital. Always keep receipts for everything you pay out – you won’t be able to claim the money back under EHIC, but if the costs mount up to more than your travel insurance excess, then you could potentially make a claim for your losses.
What EHIC Never Covers
Although exactly what EHIC gets you will vary by country, there are some things which are never covered by EHIC and which you will need other types of travel insurance to access.
- Private healthcare – EHIC will only ever cover treatment as a state healthcare patient
- Cosmetic surgery – or other treatment which is only available abroad, and when your only reason for being in the country is getting the treatment
- Air ambulances – EHIC only covers treatment in the hospital overseas. It won’t meet any of the costs of getting you back to the UK
- Healthcare outside the EEA – even if you think of a country as European, if it’s not part of the EHIC group of countries, your card will be useless there.