The European Health Insurance Card explained
Citizens from the EU/EEA and Switzerland can get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access free or reduced-cost healthcare when travelling within the EU – here’s how it works.
If you are a European citizen travelling within the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA – ie. the European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland, for private or professional reasons, you are eligible for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Non-EU citizens who are legally resident in an EU state and covered by social security are also covered by EHIC in some countries.
Since 2004, the EHIC has simplified the procedures for European citizens receiving medical assistance during travel in another member state by offering a form of health insurance cover.
Having an EHIC allows you to get state medical treatment on the same basis as residents of the country you’re visiting. You pay upfront and then can reclaim some or all of the costs. What you pay for, how much you pay and what is reimbursable varies depending on the country's healthcare policy. Each family member needs their own card.
EHIC, which is issued free of charge, it is not an alternative to travel insurance as EHIC does not cover private healthcare or being flown home after injury or illness. In some cases, insurers may require you to have an EHIC before they will offer you cover.
British citizens after UK exit vote
As the EHIC is a vital health resource when travelling in the EU, British citizens may ask what will happen to their health card if the UK leaves the Eurozone? Although the final outcome will not be known until the exit terms are negiotiated, British citizens would be able to keep accessing the EHIC scheme if the UK remains a member of the EEA, in which case the existing arrangement would continue.
How does the EHIC work?
When travelling to another EU/EEA member state or Switzerland, make sure you take your EHIC with you.
If you need to see a state doctor, have state medical treatment or are prescribed medication within the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you must show the EHIC to the staff at the hospital, doctor’s surgery or pharmacy to be able to reclaim costs later. In some countries you can use EHIC with private doctors but you need to check the situation beforehand to make sure.
You should also ask for a receipt or certificate. In some countries state healthcare is totally free, and you will pay nothing. Otherwise, you will usually be asked to pay for the treatment or prescription at the time and you reclaim some or all of the cost afterwards – either while you are still abroad or on your return – from the health/social services authority in your home country. In some countries, you will be asked to pay a patient contribution (co-payment), which is not usually reimbursable.
What does the EHIC cover – and not cover?
Your EHIC only relates to necessary care (such as breaking a leg, a tooth falling out, or catching a virus) or on-going care for a serious medical condition (eg. diabetes).
It does not cover rescue and repatriation, private healthcare (usually), or healthcare costs for planned treatment where someone decides to go to another member state to have treatment for a condition. That treatment will only be covered with the agreement of the person's insuring institution or national social security administration.
The card is intended to make access easier and to obtain reimbursements more quickly. It doesn't store nor carry information about personal health status, condition or treatments.
How to get your EHIC
Every member state is responsible for the distribution of the EHIC to its own citizens. In some countries EHIC is issued automatically with the national health card; in others you have to apply for it. To be eligible you should be paying into (employees) or covered by (dependent family members) the state social security system.
If you are a non-EU citizen but legally reside in an EU state and are paying or covered by social security, you are also eligible for an EHIC card, although you cannot use your EHIC for treatment in Denmark, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Croatians cannot use EHIC in Switzerland.
The period of validity of the card is a decision for each issuing member state to make.
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