The European Health Insurance Card and private insurance
If you have a European Health Insurance Card, you may be wondering if you also need travel insurance. If you’re planning to travel to a country that is a member of the European Union, it is a definitely good idea to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but you should also consider taking out private insurance.
Although the EHIC will not provide cover for every medical need whilst you are in the country, it will entitle you to healthcare on the same basis as residents of that country. This means that where services are provided free to citizens, you will also receive that service free of charge and where patients are charged, you will also be charged.
The EHIC is available free of charge to all UK residents, so don’t forget to apply for one before visiting an EU country. Bear in mind that your EHIC will not provide all the health services that you might expect at home. You should still consider taking out travel health insurance, even when you are travelling with an EHIC.
What does the EHIC cover?
The EHIC provides healthcare to you on the same basis as residents. You should be aware that this basis will vary a lot from country to country, so it is worth finding out about the state healthcare system of the country you are going to visit before you purchase your travel insurance. This will give you an idea of the kind of procedures and treatments you might be forced to pay for, and at what rate. This will indicate the level of travel insurance you might need for that particular country. Whilst much of the healthcare provided across Europe is free at the point of treatment, there are many countries where charges are made for particular services or procedures.
It is important to make sure you receive treatment at a state-run facility, as the EHIC will not cover any privately run services. If you are not taking out private health insurance, ensure that you know how to ask for and recognise the state-run hospitals and primary care services in the country you will be visiting.
All European Union countries will provide emergency medical care, treatment for chronic conditions and maternity services as part of the EHIC agreement. You will not be covered if you travel to the country specifically to receive treatment – this will need to be funded privately.
What is not covered by the EHIC?
Some countries charge for things which you might expect to be included, such as ambulance services. Dental services are often charged as well, with a lot of variation across the European Union. Neither will the EHIC cover costs such as mountain rescue (a particular consideration if you are going to ski), cruises or the cost if you need to be returned to the UK.
In some countries of the European Union, state healthcare is not as prevalent as in others. In some parts of Spain, for example, you may be required to travel quite some distance to find a state-funded healthcare provider. In these cases, private healthcare may be a safer and more convenient option. In other countries, you may have to choose whether you wish to receive state or private healthcare at the point of treatment, which can be both confusing and costly. In some countries, you will be expected to pay the costs of your healthcare when you receive it and claim it back later using the EHIC. Applying for a refund can take time and be fairly complicated.
The cost of prescribed medicines also varies across European countries. In some, you will pay a prescription charge, as in the UK. In others, you may be expected to pay the full cost of the medicine, or a proportion of the cost.
Do I need travel insurance to travel to the European Union?
Although your EHIC will allow you access to healthcare on the same basis as residents of the country you are visiting, healthcare systems across Europe are both complex and diverse. This means that you are unlikely to be covered for everything you could potentially need in the way of healthcare with your EHIC. You will need to find out exactly what the situation is for the country you are going to visit, but as certain services are not covered in any country (like mountain rescue and being returned home) you are likely to need a certain level of travel health insurance wherever you are going.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you will need to discuss your needs with both your doctor and your insurance company. Some European Union countries do not routinely provide all the treatments for chronic conditions that we expect in the UK, so it is important that you find out if the treatment you need is available where you are going. Your insurance company will be able to assist you in finding out about specific treatments and conditions.
You may decide, after looking into state-run medical care in your destination country, that private healthcare would be preferable. Most countries have at least some private healthcare, although the size of this industry varies considerably throughout the European Union. Private insurance will usually allow you access to more options for treatments and physicians. You may want access to English speaking staff, which is much more likely at a private hospital or facility. It may be that, in the event of you falling ill or having an accident, you would prefer a private room or better facilities than state-funded healthcare could give you.
The level of travel healthcare insurance that you decide on should be determined firstly by the options provided by the state-funded healthcare of the country you are visiting. Secondly, you should consider your own personal needs and preferences when planning your travel insurance for a visit to an EU country.