Expats and travellers want too much from their free health cards that offer emergency cover in Europe. Most expect the card to give free emergency medical treatment and some believe the card entitles them home by air ambulance if they fall seriously ill or have an accident.
A few even try to get free medical treatment outside Europe by waving the card. The EHIC – the European Health Insurance Card – is a vital document and can save travellers money if they need emergency treatment.
Insurers will often consider discounting or scrapping private health insurance excesses, but the benefits are not as valuable and comprehensive to expats as many believe. In fact, an EHIC does not offer any protection to expats.
Emergency cover only
EHIC rules allow travellers but not expats the right to claim free treatment offered to local patients by EU health services, but not free treatment across the board like that provided by the National Health Service in Britain.
The card will not cover the cost of an air ambulance and is not valid outside the European Economic Area (EEA), although Britain has some arrangements with non-EU countries to offer free emergency treatment.
The truth is the EHIC offers a reasonable basic emergency cover in EEA countries up to the level provide for nationals. Any additional care or medication has to be paid for by the patient, as does a medi-vac by air. Also, each traveller has to have their own card to claim treatment under EHIC rules.
Get cover before you go
The cost of an air ambulance is generally met from personal health insurance. For example, the cost of flying a sick patient home from the Canary Islands is around £23,000 and the patient or their family or friends would be expected to pay.
Expats do not need an EHIC, but need to have adequate private health cover before they leave the UK. The insurance should cover them in all the countries they visit before reaching their destination. Some countries require a compulsory cover with certain levels of sums assured, so make sure the policy is valid.