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Does an EHIC card make treatment free?

If you are involved in an accident or fall ill whilst you are overseas, you will be reliant on the healthcare services of the country you are in. Unfortunately, many of these countries do not offer these services for free, particularly to people who are not residents. This is why many people purchase travel insurance that includes extensive medical cover; this can provide funding even for private healthcare services, and ensure that if you need some kind of medical treatment there isn’t going to be a huge blow to your bank balance. There is an alternative to this, however.

If you obtain a European Health Insurance Card, which is available to all EU citizens, you will be entitled to free or discounted medical treatment in any EU country. Whether the treatment it provides access to will be free or discounted depends entirely on the rules in the country itself. The key question is whether healthcare in that country is free for the people who live and work there.

What is the EHIC?

The European Health Insurance Card is a piece of identification you can present at EU healthcare facilities to prove you are an EU citizen. It entitles you to the same healthcare that is offered under the state system of that country. So if their medical care is free, then it will be free for you too, but only if you are registered with a valid EHIC card. When you are issued a card, it remains valid for 5 years, so be sure to check the expiry date of yours before you decide to head out for a trip overseas.

How does it work?

You can apply for an EHIC free of charge. You can start the EHIC application process by heading over to the EHIC website, or you can call the NHS to get the ball rolling on 0300 330 1350. Once you acquire your card, it remains valid for 5 years and covers only you for coverage overseas. The only exception to this is if you have any dependants under 16 – if you include them in your application, you’ll both be issued an EHIC of your own.

An EHIC card will also enable you to access state-provided treatment for any long-term or pre-existing health conditions you have when travelling to an EU country. You must carry your EHIC card with you all the time to ensure you can access treatment, so keep it in your bag or wallet whenever you head out to see the sights. If you have a pre-existing health condition, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before travelling. They may be able to advise you on what documentation you should take regarding your condition and any medications you receive.

The EHIC is not travel insurance

With an EHIC you have valuable protection in place, but it is not an alternative to purchasing travel insurance. It is advisable to have both whenever you travel to reduce the risk that you might incur large medical bills or delays in treatment. If you have an emergency, the last thing you need is to go through the stress of being told your treatment will cost the Earth and then having to be relocated to a different hospital. The best way to cover all your bases is to have an EHIC and medical travel insurance in place.

It helps to have a solid understanding of the healthcare system of the country you are in. With an EHIC, you are entitled to access healthcare in the same way a citizen of the country you are visiting would. This means if that country’s citizens are required to pay for their medical treatment, you will too. People in these countries will usually have to purchase private health insurance to make healthcare affordable for them, so you should have something similar in place when you visit.

There are several other costs that the EHIC doesn’t cover. These include the following:

  • Mountain rescue: if you are adventurous and plan to trek into the mountains, be warned that your EHIC will not cover any costs associated with the authorities having to rescue you in the event of an accident. You should definitely take out sufficient insurance to cover you on your adventures.
  • Treatment on cruises: if you are heading out on a cruise ship, and you have an accident or fall ill, the treatment you receive from medics on the ship will not be covered by your EHIC. Some cruise packages will include medical insurance in the cost, but be sure you are covered before you travel.
  • Transport back to the UK: if you fall ill or have an accident and need to have travel arrangements made to take you back to the UK early, you will have to pay the full cost of these transport arrangements. Citizens of the country wouldn’t be covered by the state system to be transported overseas, so you won’t either.

Do I need an EHIC if I have an E111 card?

The EHIC was brought in to replace the old E111 form. The E111 was discontinued back in 2005, so any E111 you may have today is no longer valid. If you have an E111 and want to travel overseas, you must apply for an EHIC to get access to your destination country’s state-provided healthcare. In the past, you could book an E111 by going to the post office, but you must apply for your EHIC online.

So, in answer to the original question, the EHIC card MAY make treatment free when you travel to an EU country. If citizens of that country get free access to state-provided healthcare, then you will too. Otherwise, it will provide access to treatment at a reduced cost, or it won’t make any difference to the cost of treatment. You should always research the healthcare system of your destination country to be prepared, and it is recommended that you take out medical travel insurance to minimise the chances that you incur a large medical bill if you fall ill or have an accident.