With the UK’s eventual departure from the European Union looming large, travellers on both sides of the Channel will no doubt be asking – will I soon need to buy travel insurance for trips from the UK to continental Europe, and vice versa?
The reason this question is being raised is because ‘Brexit’ could well mean the UK leaves the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme, which guarantees card holders free or subsidised access to state-provided healthcare wherever they travel in the European Economic Area (EEC), plus Switzerland.
With the EHIC no longer valid in the UK and no longer available to its citizens, the assumption is that travellers from Europe to the UK, and from the UK to Europe, would need travel insurance to cover any potential medical costs.
While this is true, it is wrong to think of the EHIC and travel insurance as either-or options. As things stand, travellers should carry both. The EHIC is a scheme for medical costs only. Travel insurance, whilst it includes medical cover, also protects you for a variety of other things, such as loss or theft of personal belongings and luggage, delays and cancellations to flights and other pre-arranged transport and so on.
It is also a common misapprehension that the EHIC entitles you to free healthcare. It does not, because every country in the scheme does not offer free care to its own citizens. If you travel to a country where all medical treatment is paid for, you have to pay too, regardless of carrying a EHIC card, although it is likely to be at a heavily subsidised rate. But the fact you have to pay at all is another reason why you need travel insurance as well.
Pre-existing medical conditions
Standard travel insurance medical cover is not as comprehensive as the EHIC. If you have a pre-existing medical issue, you need to be aware that travel insurance policies do not automatically cover you for treatments related to your condition. This is different to the EHIC, which covers all forms of medical assistance, whether general or specific, whether an emergency or just a check-up.
For example, if you have a lung or a heart condition and suddenly symptoms flare up while abroad, the EHIC means you can be rushed to hospital and will only be charged the domestic rate – nothing, in some countries. The same applies if you just want to visit a doctor for a once-over or a new prescription. Travel insurance, on the other hand, is designed mainly to cover general illness, accidents and emergencies. Standard policies will not pay out on treatment for specific conditions.
This is something to be aware of if you suffer from a long-standing illness and have been used to relying on the EHIC, if and when it is no longer used in the UK. To get adequate protection, you will need to source a bespoke travel insurance policy that includes your condition in its medical schedule. There are many specialist providers out there who cater for people with pre-exisiting conditions, who offer good value and comprehensive protection for your specific needs.