FOR THE MILLIONS of Britons travelling on the continent, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – which affords travellers state provided necessary medical treatment in the host country – has long been a default item to take on holiday.
It’s not a cover-all replacement for travel insurance should something go wrong, but it certainly helps.
They cover temporary stays in European Economic Area (EEA) countries, plus Switzerland, and over 27 million people have one, according to the Department of Health.
Patients are effectively treated as a resident of the country in question, either at a reduced cost or for free by the state healthcare system, with the home nation picking up the tab.
However, the future of this benefit has been thrown into doubt by the vote to leave the European Union.
They still work. And they will continue to work until the UK leaves the EU – which could take a decade. Nothing will happen to the EHIC when Article 50 is triggered, as it merely starts the process of leaving the European Union.
One of the major factors in deciding whether the EHIC will remain available to British citizens is whether there is a separation from the EEA, as the card is not an EU initiative.
Currently, EHIC offers protection in Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein – who are EEA members but not EU members and accept the EHIC. The UK could feasibly adopt this model.
Outside of that, the UK has some form of reciprocal healthcare relationship with the following countries:
• Bosnia and Herzegovina
• British Virgin Islands
• Falkland Islands
• Isle of Man
• Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)
• New Zealand
• St Helena
• Turks and Caicos Islands
Additionally, Switzerland – which isn’t in the EU or the EEA – it still accepts the EHIC as part of a deal with the single market and there has been speculation as to whether the UK could follow the Swiss model.
The knock-on effect to insurance costs could be significant if the EHIC becomes unavailable for British citizens. Insurers would have to take into consideration that they would be footing the bill for all medical treatment, rather than having a proportion dealt with through the EHIC system.
The card provides such good health protection that some insurers now insist you must have an EHIC to take out a policy and many will even waive your excess if you do have one.
A Government spokesman said: ‘At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of the United Kingdom, including those travelling to and living in EU countries.’
‘Once the details of Brexit are resolved, we will then know if we remain part of the scheme – or if we will exit from the EHIC system.’
Given the number of EU nationals that go on holiday in the UK and UK nationals that visit Europe, it would make sense for an agreement to be made as part of the Brexit negotiations – but that can’t be guaranteed.