Too many British expats and tourists taking time out across Europe expect too much from their emergency health cards, a new survey has found.
Nearly seven out of 10 Brits in Europe wrongly believe the card grants them free healthcare anywhere in the EU, 7% mistakenly think the card will give them a free ride home in an air ambulance and 6% even try to claim free medical treatment with the card when travelling outside the European Economic Area (EEA)
The EHIC – European Health Insurance Card – is free and a necessity to pack for a trip within the EEA as 7% of cardholders have found over the past five years when they have had to access free or discounted medical treatment abroad.
How the EHIC works
Any British resident can apply for a free EHIC, but those living in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man are not eligible.
The card allows the holder to claim treatment on the same terms as a national of the country they are travelling in.
Healthcare costs vary widely across the EEA – which covers all EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Not all countries deliver free healthcare like the UK National Health Service. In many case, patients may have to pay for treatment and reclaim some or all of the cost later.
One point for expats and tourists to watch is not all health care is offered by the state in the EEA.
Paying repatriation costs
Some patients may be picked up by an ambulance and taken to a private hospital for treatment and then may discover that their EHIC is not accepted for settling the bill.
EHICs do not cover the cost of repatriation if a patient has to return to the UK after initial treatment.
Expats should have private medical insurance, while tourists need to arrange travel cover. Both policies will pay repatriation costs, which is a relief as flying an injured patient home from the Canary Islands can cost up to £23,000.
Many fear that EHIC benefits will evaporate during Brexit talks. No one knows what the fate of the service is likely to be, but the card will remain in force until March 2019.