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4.5*m EHICs expire this year - Gocompare.com urges holidaymakers to check theirs BEFORE they travel

02 July 2014

New research from Gocompare.com Travel Insurance has found that 4,479,132* European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) expire this year. So with the summer holidays just around the corner the comparison website is urging holidaymakers to check the expiry date on theirs well before they travel.

An EHIC is one of the most important things you can pack for a trip to Europe as it entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the country they’re in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including 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.

An EHIC complements a comprehensive travel insurance policy rather than replaces it, and having one could let you avoid paying an excess if you have to claim for medical care on your travel insurance.

Avoid a medical claim excess

Researchers from Gocompare.com found that 92% (489 out of 532) of the single trip travel insurance policies it examined charged an excess on medical claims. However 90% of those (442 of 489) would waive the excess on claims made for medical care when an EHIC had been correctly used in a participating country. The figures were similar for annual multi-trip policies as well with 91% (501 out of 549) charging an excess for medical claims but 88% (441 of 501) of those waiving the excess when an EHIC is correctly used.**

Obtaining an EHIC

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free to most UK residents of British, EU, EAA or Swiss nationality. However residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not eligible for EHICs. They last for five years and each member of a travelling party, including children, must have their own card.

Travellers can apply for an EHIC free of charge at https://www.ehic.org.uk and the process is quite straightforward. However, some official looking websites found via search engines can try to charge as much as £24.99 to manage your EHIC application.

The NHS has also created a handy EHIC app which includes a guide on how to use the card, emergency telephone numbers, covered treatments and costs and how to claim a reimbursement. It’s available in 25 languages with the option to switch from one to another. You can download the app for free here http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=559

EHIC confusion

Despite EHICs being phased in from June 2004 to replace the old E111, there’s still some confusion amongst British holidaymakers about the extent of cover they provide.

54% of UK holiday makers believe that an EHIC entitles them to free medical care anywhere in Europe, while 6% believe the card entitles them to free medical care worldwide.

The facts – An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the country they’re in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including Switzerland.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country and does not mean you can expect to be treated as you would if you visited your NHS doctor or hospital. Few 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.

Also, in the event of an emergency, there is no guarantee that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for treatment and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are privately run. If you go or are taken to a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be of any benefit at all.

Medical repatriation

Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) of Brits believe that having an EHIC means that if they are seriously ill they can be flown home from Europe by air ambulance for free.

In really serious circumstances the patient may have to be transferred to a UK hospital under medical supervision. Again, this is outside of the protection provided by an EHIC but it is usually covered by a good travel insurance policy. 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.

The facts – An EHIC does not cover the cost of medical repatriation from any destination and the Government does not pay for British holidaymakers to be flown home following accidents.

Tourists who need medical treatment and repatriation risk incurring huge bills if they don’t have adequate travel insurance. Without travel insurance individuals or their families have to find the money to pay for such services themselves.

Caroline Lloyd from Gocompare.com Travel Insurance, said: “If you’re planning a trip to Europe this summer break check your EHICs now to make sure they’re still valid. As most people tend to dig them out only once every year or two it’s easy to overlook if they’ve expired since your last trip.

“You can apply for or renew an EHIC online and they usually takes a week or two to process and be posted to you so don’t leave it until the last minute before you check them.

“Despite being around for 10 years there’s still a lot of confusion amongst British holidaymakers about what benefits an EHIC can and can’t provide. Whilst it is an essential piece of plastic to take to Europe, only travel insurance can give you the assurance that if disaster strikes you can pay for your treatment wherever you are or be transferred back to a UK hospital if appropriate for your care.

“Holidaymakers should always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure they’re covered for medical treatment and repatriation if necessary. £1m of medical cover should be fine for most situations but some policies offer £5m or more as standard. For minor accidents and illnesses, and as long as you go to a state run hospital or healthcare centre, an EHIC could save you having to pay out too much, or anything, for treatment. Look at an EHIC as complementing your own travel insurance rather than replacing it otherwise you could end up with a hefty medical bill if you have an accident or are taken ill abroad.”

-ends-

Notes to editors:

*According to an FOI request submitted by Gocompare.com to the NHS Business Services Authority in May 2014, 4,479,132 EHICs have a 2014 expiry date.

**Source: Defaqto Matrix of 534 single trip travel insurance policies - instant and unbiased market and competitor intelligence, from independent financial researcher Defaqto (correct as of 30 June 2014).