GoCompare uses cookies. By using the website you agree with our use of cookies. Continue Find out how to manage cookies and view our policy here

70% of Brits overestimate the benefits of the EHIC

07 July 2016

7 out of 10 UK holidaymakers expect free emergency medical treatment in Europe and 7% think it will get them home by air ambulance

1 in 10 (10%) UK adults who’ve been abroad in the last five years have used an EHIC to get free or reduced cost medical treatment whilst travelling in Europe.

However, although it is a ‘must-have’ piece of kit for a European trip, according to new research from Gocompare.com travel insurance, the vast majority of UK holidaymakers over-estimate the benefits it can provide, with 70% believing it entitles them to free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe and 6% believing it will get them free emergency medical treatment anywhere in the World.

Unfortunately, although an EHIC is extremely useful, can save you money on emergency medical expenses and even reduce or cancel out your excess on some travel insurance medical claims, its benefits are not as comprehensive as many people think.

For example, 7% of holidaymakers responding to the survey believe that an EHIC would entitle them to medical repatriation by air ambulance if they were seriously ill or injured in Europe. In reality, you will need a good travel insurance policy or generous friends to pay the several thousand Euros it would cost to bring you home under medical supervision.

The EHIC and Brexit

In research carried out before the EU referendum, 23% of UK holidaymakers felt worried that a Brexit would mean they would lose valuable medical protection provided by the European Health Insurance Card.

The EHIC is an initiative of the European Economic Area (EEA) rather than the European Union (EU) so whether or not UK citizens will keep this reciprocal benefit depends on how deep the Brexit goes. Regardless, nothing will change until the Article 50 negotiations to separate the UK from the EU are concluded, which could be two years or more.

Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members of the EEA but not the EU and all three accept the EHIC so the UK could possibly take this approach. Switzerland is neither a member of the EU or the EEA but still accepts the EHIC as part of the single market.

Also, the UK already has reciprocal deals with a number of countries, including Australia, Israel and Russia, under which visitors can receive free urgent treatment. So even if it was no longer part of the EHIC initiative, it might agree similar deals with EU countries

EHIC benefits – The Facts (for now!) – The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free to most UK residents. However residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not eligible for EHICs. Parents and guardians can apply for EHICs for those aged under 16 and each member of a travel party must have their own EHIC.

An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the EEA country they’re travelling in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free, or at a reduced cost, in all EEA countries and Switzerland. The EEA includes all 27 members of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EHIC is not accepted in Turkey as it is not a member of the EU or the EEA.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country. Healthcare and treatment may not be free and you should not expect to always be treated as you would if you visited your NHS doctor or hospital. Not all EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment as you’d expect from the NHS. For example, in France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

There are also no guarantees that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for emergency treatment, and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are private. If you end up at a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be accepted for any treatments.

Medical repatriation – No insurance? No chance (unless you can pay for it yourself)

When it comes to medical repatriation, the EHIC is of no use at all. An EHIC does not cover the cost of being flown home under medical supervision from any destination and the Government generally does not pay for British holidaymakers to be flown home unless there are very unusual circumstances. The costs of a medical repatriation can be huge - according to one insurer, the cost of flying one seriously ill British holidaymaker home from the Canary Islands by jet air ambulance was nearly £23,000. In most cases the costs will be covered by a reasonable travel insurance policy but without that cover, friends and family may end up footing the bill to get you home.

A free EHIC? That will be £35.00 please.

Unfortunately there are still plenty of online companies charging anything from £14.99 to £35.00 to ‘process’ these free applications, despite it being a very straightforward, 10 minute job on the official government website: https://www.ehic.org.uk

Alex Edwards, travel insurance spokesperson at Gocompare.com, commented: “70% of UK holidaymakers believe that the EHIC is some kind of ‘get out of hospital free’ card but that’s simply not the case. Whilst it is a really useful piece of plastic to take with you on trips to Europe, it’s no replacement for the medical expenses cover provided by a decent travel insurance policy.

“Having an EHIC can help you to access free or, more likely, discounted emergency medical services in state run clinics and hospitals whilst on trips to Europe but it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to pay anything, and it certainly won’t be any help if you need medical repatriation to the UK, which can cost thousands of pounds.

“However, having an EHIC may mean that you don’t have to claim on your travel insurance for minor injuries in some circumstances and some insurers will waive the policy excess for medical claims where you’ve used your EHIC but where it doesn’t cover the full cost of your treatment. But holidaymakers should always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure they’re covered for medical treatment and medical repatriation if necessary. Look at an EHIC as complementing your travel insurance rather than replacing it otherwise you could be bringing a large medical bill home with you as a souvenir.

“Finally, an EHIC is free, so don’t pay good money to a service which wants to charge you £35.00 to process your application. You won’t get your EHIC any quicker and you’ll basically be paying for someone to check your spelling and remind you to replace your EHIC when it expires in five years’ time. Use the official NHS website instead and keep the £35.00 for a night out.”

- ENDS -

Notes to editors:

1On the 8th June 2016, Bilendi conducted an online survey among 1429 randomly selected British adults who have been on holiday abroad in the last five years and are Maximiles UK panelists.  The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 2.2%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and regional data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of United Kingdom. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.