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The European Health Insurance Card and Everything In Between

ehic card renewal onlineThe European Health Insurance Card, more commonly known as the EHIC card, is a very advantageous card that every European resident should avail of. Application for the EHIC is quick and free of charge, so there should be no issues obtaining it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For whatever reason, more than half of the UK population have not availed of the card, and around 5.3 million existing cards are close to expiration.

It is very possible that European residents do not avail of the card because they are not aware of it or the benefits that it may bring. This article provides information on the European Health Card and everything there is to know about it in the hopes of getting more European residents to apply for it.

A Closer Look at the European Health Card

The EHIC stemmed from what was then known as the E111 form, which was a piece of paper that could get their European owners free or discounted rates when availing of medical treatments for injuries or illnesses that developed during their travels to other European countries.

The E111 form was advantageous in its own way but it also came with a lot of issues. Such issues include the fact that it was simply typewritten on a piece of paper and that one paper alone covered a whole family. If one family member loses it, then no one else can avail of the benefits. To address these issues, the EU, along with the Economic Free Trade Association, came up with the European Health Insurance Card, which now looks like a credit card rather than a piece of paper. The EU Health Card was introduced in the year 2005 and has been a great tool for European travellers ever since.

european health card overviewBasically, the EHIC card provides cardholders with access to state-provided healthcare treatments and services whenever they travel to other European countries, including Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, among others. The card is valid for use in emergency cases, general practitioner visits, and in-patient hospital stays, provided that the purpose for the travel wasn’t to seek medical care. It should be noted, however, that the European Health Insurance Card can only be used by patients getting public treatments, not private ones. An EHIC cardholder who chooses to be treated as a private patient may be asked to pay for the treatments done, which could generally cost a fortune.

Most countries under the EEA generally have similar healthcare systems, except that some of them may charge a small fee for the treatments rather than give them for free. This is known as a patient share or co-payment scheme. Other countries may also ask cardholders to pay the whole amount first and then just refund it afterwards. The National Healthcare System website provides vital and accurate information on the healthcare policies of each EHIC-participating country. It is best to read up on these information before travelling to any of the countries just so you know what to expect in case you need to use your EHIC card.

EHIC card and Travel Insurance

One common misconception about the EHIC card is that it can be used as a substitute for travel insurance. Though both offer valuable protection, it should be noted that the European Health Insurance Card only covers medical expenses while travel insurance covers a lot more than that. Listed below are just a few of the things that travel insurance can cover that EHIC can’t.

  • Healthcare treatments and services from private institutions and/or practitioners
  • Repatriation costs, or costs of being sent back to your home country
  • Cancellation or delay of flights
  • Baggage loss or theft
  • Any costs from public healthcare institutions that weren’t covered by the EHIC

european health insurance card renewal stepsKeep in mind that the EHIC only covers treatments done in accredited state healthcare institutions. Depending on where you are, these institutions can be limited and far from where you are staying. Furthermore, they may not always be available. In cases of extreme emergencies, therefore, there may be no choice but to go to a private hospital. This will not be covered by the EU Health Card, so having travel insurance will definitely be helpful in this case. Furthermore, even if you do get the treatment in a state hospital, there is no assurance that you will get this for free. In this case, the European Medical Card reduces the cost of healthcare received and the insurance pays for the rest. In essence, you still get the treatment/s for free!

On the other hand, because travel insurance seems to cover more areas than the EHIC, many travellers would choose to avail of the former without even thinking of applying for the latter. It is important to note that the EHIC has its own advantages too. Treatment for pre-existing conditions, for example, is not covered by travel insurance but is covered by the EHIC card. The European Health Insurance card also covers any accidents incurred even though the owner had a few drinks, something that no insurance would cover.

This being said, it is therefore best for travellers to have both the EHIC and travel insurance on hand. Rather than look at them as alternatives to each other, treat them as complements. By having both, you can be assured of an inexpensive and stress-free vacation, even in the event of emergency medical situations. In fact, many insurance providers even give discounts to EHIC cardholders because the card can greatly decrease the amount that they will need to pay in case of medical claims. There are also some insurance providers who charge their clients extra for not having an European Health Card. Since application and ownership of the latter is free, it is definitely more advantageous for you to get one.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get a European Health Insurance Card?

There are many ways to apply for the EHIC:

  • Online
  • Manually

To apply manually, you will have to download the application form from the website, print it, manually fill it in, and send it to the relevant body. If approved, the card should arrive at your mailing address in around a week or so.

Keep in mind that the European Health Insurance Card cannot be obtained any other way. They cannot be given by doctors, obtained from the post office, or other means.

Does the EHIC card cover the whole of Europe?

Though the EHIC card was established by the European Economic Area (EEA), it does not cover the whole of Europe. Areas not covered include the Channel Islands, Monaco, the Isle of Man, the Vatican, and San Marino.

e111 card replacementOn the other hand, there are some non-European countries such as Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Australia, and New Zealand, which have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the EEA. Though the EHIC card is not required here, the healthcare agreements are technically the same. This means that European residents can still get discounted or free healthcare treatments from state institutions in these countries.

Do I get free medical treatment as a European Health Card holder?

As an EHIC cardholder, you will be treated as a resident of the country that you are travelling to. If the residents get the treatments for free, then you can also enjoy the same benefits. However, if they have to pay, then you will also have to pay. This applies even to residents of countries that offer free healthcare. If, for example, you would normally receive free treatment in your home country and you visit a country that offers a co-payment scheme, you will also be asked to pay a portion of the treatment instead of getting it for free.

What happens if I lose the EHIC?

If your card gets lost while you’re in your home country, then all you have to do is to report it as lost and apply for a new one. If you lose it while travelling, however, and you find yourself needing medical attention, you can call the Overseas Healthcare Team and request for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC). The PRC acts as a temporary EHIC while you are abroad and is valid until you get back home. Once home, report your EHIC card as lost again and apply for a new one.

To request for the PRC, you will need to provide your personal details, along with your National Insurance number and the name and contact details of the institution that you are receiving the treatment from.

Do I still need an EHIC even if I still have an E111 card form?

The European Health Insurance Card was introduced as a replacement for the E111 form in the year 2005. This means that any E111 forms still existing are no longer valid and will not grant the owner any benefits when travelling. European residents who wish to continue receiving the benefits of the E111 form should therefore apply for an EHIC card.

Do I still need travel insurance if I already have the European Health Insurance Card and vice versa?

As mentioned above, the EHIC and travel insurance complement each other and should not be treated as alternatives to each other. What the EHIC doesn’t cover, the travel insurance does, and vice versa. For this reason, it is always best to have both on hand.

Can I get a refund for medical costs in cases of EHIC card refusal?

Unfortunately, any costs paid for private treatments are not refundable, even though it was the hospital’s fault for refusing the EHIC card. However, those with travel insurances may claim refunds, provided that the circumstances for the treatment are covered by the insurance plan.

EHIC refusals should be reported to the British Embassy or to the European Commission’s SOLVIT system but this does not mean that you can get your money back.

Has the recent Brexit changed anything with regards to the EU Health Card?

No. Despite UK’s recent exit from the European Union, it is still part of Europe and is still covered by the European Health Insurance Card. UK residents can therefore still be EHIC cardholders and European Health Insurance Card holders can still use their cards to get treatments in UK. In case this changes in the future, the UK is still set on providing unilateral healthcare agreements for its residents.

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