If you’re heading off on a continental break, the European Health Insurance Card can be a handy addition to your wallet. But rely on this alone and you could end up in financial pain.
I own a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and take it with me whenever I travel around Europe, just in case of any unforeseen emergencies.
Luckily, I haven’t needed any urgent medical help while away. But if I did, there’s still a distinct possibility that I’d have to shell out for at least some of the costs. And in an extreme case, without travel insurance, I could have to stump up thousands of pounds.
EHIC vs travel insurance
There are several reasons why it’s important to take out travel insurance as well:
- The EHIC is usually only accepted at state-funded hospitals. So if I needed assistance urgently and could only get to a private clinic, the EHIC wouldn’t be of any use. It doesn’t cover mountain rescue either.
- The EHIC doesn’t always entitle us to get all state-provided medical treatment free of charge. It does entitle us to the same medical care as a local resident of the country we’re in, but this may not be as comprehensive as the NHS. Where state-funded treatment isn’t entirely free, insurers will usually pay outstanding costs.
- The EHIC won’t cover extra accommodation costs and pricey repatriation to the UK. Insurance will cover repatriation, along with other essentials like cancellation cover.
Newlywed Carrie-Anne Dudbridge found out about this last point the hard way. She had to raise £16,000 in donations to pay for a flight home after breaking her back on a honeymoon in Corfu this summer. It was reported that the couple didn’t take out travel insurance because they wrongly assumed they were covered under the EHIC scheme.
Is it worth getting an EHIC?
Well, yes. For a start, it’s free of charge and applying for one is straightforward.
As long as your medical attention is state-funded, you may not then have to pay for anything, or at least reduce the level of the upfront costs that you’ll have to claim back later. It should minimise red tape and save time and hassle.
Also, many insurers will waive the excess (usually £50-100) on claims for medical treatment if you’ve shown your EHIC, and some policies state they won’t pay out on claims for expenses that could have been free if an EHIC had been used.
So have you used an EHIC? We’ve heard from dozens of Which? members who have used the card, and more than half said they benefited from having it. But several who had been in Spain complained that their EHIC wasn’t accepted by medical staff. Most of the clinics in Spanish tourist resorts are private, but even in state hospitals staff sometimes refuse the cards.
The authorities should do more to ensure that we can use the EHIC in the places where we’re entitled to medical benefits. Until then, it’s wise to take the belt and braces approach of organising both an EHIC and travel insurance for trips in Europe.