So, you’re less than clear on just what an EHIC card is and what it does? If so, you’ll hopefully find answers to your questions here. For a start, note that EHIC stands for ‘European Health Insurance Card’ and it’s often referred to phonetically as the ‘Eee Hick.’
What does this card do?
The basic principle behind this scheme is to allow the citizens of one European Union country to obtain comparable basic health care as available to the citizens of another European Union country they are visiting.
Does this mean free health care when you are travelling in the European Union?
No, it does not and this is one of the commonest misconceptions about the EHIC card.
The scheme is very specific in that it only offers the cardholder care on the same basis as a local citizen would get it. So, if they get certain treatments free of charge then so would you as a cardholder. Note, though, that this typically only covers emergency or urgently required treatment. Non-emergency conditions would normally be considered to be outside of the cover provided.
Am I completely covered then for all emergencies requiring medical treatment?
No, not necessarily. Remember that the scheme is based not on the nature of your condition but whether or not treatment for it would be provided free of charge to a local citizen. So, if it is a form of treatment they would not have to pay for then you won’t either. The reverse is obviously also true: if they’d have to pay then so would you.
Isn’t medical treatment free of charge to all EU citizens?
No, there are significant differences between the member states. Treatments in some countries that are free might not be so in another country. The situation is complicated and can vary from one country to another. For example, in France most emergency or urgent treatment (as well as that required for certain conditions such as cancer) is provided free of charge to French citizens through the state scheme. Yet other forms of treatment are only covered to 70% by the state and 30% by the private health insurance most French people will also hold. If you are a UK citizen in France and you need medical treatment that would not be deemed to be fully reimbursable to a French citizen, then, like them, you will have to pay 30% of the cost yourself.
Can’t you claim back European Union medical costs from the NHS when you return home?
The position here is complicated and subject to fairly frequent legislative change. The answer is that you should not assume that any costs you incurred in the European Union would be reimbursed by the NHS back in the UK. You should check the current situation on the NHS’ own website.
Is an EHIC card an alternative to travel insurance?
Absolutely not! It is true that you can obtain a card entirely free of charge through the NHS website, but there are many things it will not cover. Just two commonly cited examples would include medical repatriation by air if you were injured or the cost of additional hotel accommodation locally for your family if you were hospitalised. Don’t assume the EHIC card is a free insurance equivalent – it isn’t!