Holidaymakers vastly overestimate what their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover, according to research by GoCompare.
According to the comparison site’s research, more than half (59%) of Brits who have been abroad in the past five years believe that their EHIC entitles them to free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe, and a small number (4%) erroneously believe it covers medical costs worldwide.
When it comes to repatriation, nearly one in 10 (9%) think that their EHIC entitles them to an air ambulance back to the UK in a medical emergency. One in 20 (5%) incorrectly believe the British embassy would cover the costs of getting home when seriously ill, even without an EHIC card. The British embassy would only do this in extreme circumstances.
Georgie Frost, consumer advocate at GoCompare says: “The fact it’s called an ‘insurance card’ is quite confusing. It’s vital people understand the benefits and limitations of the card to avoid becoming one of the horror stories we read about when people become seriously ill but have no cover and rely on family, friends or crowdfunding to pay for medical bills or an air ambulance home. When you consider that a decent policy can cost less than a pair of flip-flops, it’s not worth taking the risk.
What will EHIC actually cover?
Most concerningly, 4% of UK consumers think that they wouldn’t need travel insurance at all when travelling in Europe if they had an EHIC card.
UK residents who have an EHIC card can benefit from local state healthcare at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free, in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland. It’s important to be aware that the provision of state care is different in each country, and tourists should not expect medical assistance free of charge.
The EEA includes all countries in the EU, as well as Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. This does not include other popular destinations such as Turkey, Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino.
The EHIC is free for most UK residents, excluding the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Beware of online companies that offer to help you get one at a cost, as this is an unnecessary fee that can be bypassed by applying for one on the official government website.
Although travel insurance isn’t compulsory, it is highly recommended that you don’t go on holiday without it. Some of the completed claims published by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in 2017 included £125,000 for surgery following a jet-ski accident in Turkey and £25,000 for an air ambulance from Majorca to the UK. Outside of Europe the costs can increase even further, with a total of £768,000 paid to cover the treatment and repatriation of a Brit who suffered a stroke in the USA.
Ms Frost adds: “Travel insurance and an EHIC are a good combination. Having an EHIC may mean that in some circumstances you don’t have to claim on your travel insurance for minor injuries, and some providers 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.”
Medical care aside, travel insurance will also cover you for things that your EHIC won’t. Fiona Macrae a spokesperson from Travel Insurance Explained says; “EHIC does not provide cover for general cancellation, curtailment or if you lose your personal possessions or have them stolen. Therefore, you should always buy travel insurance so that you are not left out of pocket should the worst happen.”
Be aware of the ‘tourist trap’ private clinics
There are many private hospitals and clinics in Europe where treatment will not be covered by your EHIC; but it is also worth noting that your travel insurance may not cover private care either unless it is agreed before the treatment is given.
Jon Phillips, a member of the leadership team at travel insurance provider Tifgroup, says: “Unfortunately, when tourists fall ill or become injured abroad, many get caught up in the ‘tourist trap’ and find themselves referred to a private clinic. Many of these clinics are not equipped to cope with emergency situations and can often be unregulated, unlike public or state-run facilities.
“Over the years we have seen some disappointing practices from certain private clinic networks, resulting in credit cards and passports having to be provided before treatment will be administered.
“When Brits think of private health care, they usually think about our standards of private treatment, however it is important to remember that not all countries around the world operate with the same standards as the UK. It is for this reason that it’s so important to contact your travel insurers emergency assistance team as soon as possible if you are injured or become ill on holiday.”