No one likes to think they will fall ill or have an accident while on holiday, but it could and does happen to many Brits each year. If you are travelling in Europe, it is important to take advantage of the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) so that you don't have to pay vast sums to get treatment if something should go wrong.
What is the EHIC?
The card, which replaced the old E111 form, entitles you to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and doctor's surgeries in any European Union country, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. All UK residents are eligible to receive the card, which entitles the holder to the same treatment local citizens receive in their own country, including emergency treatment.
Why do I need one?
Even if you are covered with your own travel insurance, the EHIC offers extra protection, allowing you to visit a GP even for a query or minor problem. They are available to all, including children, and while over-16s must apply for their own card, even younger children need one, so if you are applying, be sure to include them as a dependent on your application. Each will receive their own EHIC card.
The EHIC card doesn't always mean you'll receive free treatment, however. If, for instance, treatment is not free for residents of the country you are visiting, you may need to pay a proportion of the costs. But since what is free and what is not varies from country to country, it is worth visiting the NHS England website, which has a detailed list of what is covered in each EU member state. In some cases you may need to pay for treatment upfront, but you might be able to reclaim the money while you are there, or when your return to the UK.
Remember that you will need to carry your EHIC card at all times - even if you are just heading to the beach - as you will not be covered if you don't have it on you. In the event that you forget your card and an emergency occurs, the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team may be able to provide a Provisional Replacement Certificate to prove that you are entitled to free or reduced cost treatment.
A word of warning
In recent years there have been some reports of Brits being refused free state-run treatment in countries such as Spain and Greece, with hospitals insisting that travellers are taken to a private facility, often under the guise of a 'medical consent form'. The European Commission says it is a breach of EU law if you are refused public healthcare despite being in possession of an EHIC, but should the worst happen, always check that you are being treated in the public healthcare system, and be careful what you sign.
How do I apply?
It's easy to apply for your free EHIC. You can register online at www.ehic.org.uk, download and print your application form from the NHS website, or call 0300 330 1350 and have one posted to you, and if you need help with your application, the EHIC Facebook page offers help and advice from a specialist NHS team. And remember that it may take up to two weeks for your card to arrive, so be sure to apply well in advance of your date of travel.
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