If you are one of the many millions of UK residents who love travelling to Europe, you probably know by now that things will change a little once the country leaves the EU. It may mean standing longer in passport queues and more customs checks, and perhaps higher prices than Brits are used to as long as the pound remains weak.
One thing which has slipped under the radar, however, is the impact Brexit will have on health and travel insurance. As EU citizens, UK residents have been entitled to carry the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), and before that, the E111. These perks of EU membership have entitled holders to state-subsidised healthcare in all countries within the European Economic Area (EEC).
At present, 27 million UK nationals hold an EHIC card, just short of half the total population. Out of this number, the largest proportion of card holders are families with young children and older travellers – in other words, the groups most likely to need to seek medical assistance abroad.
To date, it is far from clear what will happen to the EHIC for UK residents once Brexit takes effect in March 2019. There was no mention of it in the government’s Brexit white paper earlier this year. So to try to clear the fog a little, here’s an overview of the most likely scenarios, and what the ramifications could be for UK travellers heading to Europe in the future.
In or Out
When it boils down to it, there are only really two scenarios for the future of the EHIC for UK citizens – either the country negotiates continued membership, or it leaves the scheme altogether.
The educated guess would be that the former happens, based on the fact that countries which are part of the EEC but non-EU members, like Iceland and Norway, also use the EHIC card. If the UK remains part of the EEC, it would make sense that similar cooperative arrangements are put in place. Keeping the UK in the EHIC benefits both sides, as it provides reassurance for Brits travelling to EU countries, but also gives EU citizens travelling to Britain the same protections.
However, in the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit in which the UK also left the EEC, or if no deal is reached full stop, then UK citizens would probably lose their EHIC.
How will this affect travel insurance?
What should be remembered is that the EHIC does not provide comprehensive health cover for travellers anyway. What it gives you is the right to access a basic standard of state subsidised healthcare in each EU and EEC country, should you require it. But as arrangements for state healthcare vary from country to country, there is no definitive package of what you are and are not entitled to.
In many cases, EHIC card holders still have to pay upfront, and then claim the costs back. On average, the EHIC will save you around 70 per cent of any medical expenses, although most travel insurers will pick up the difference.
The message with the EHIC has always been that it should not be seen as a replacement for travel insurance, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. In that sense, whether the UK leaves the EHIC or not should not make much difference – travellers, particularly older, more vulnerable travellers with known conditions, are strongly advised to take out travel insurance anyway.
The key here is that the EHIC will only cover the costs of basic care. If you are travelling with a condition such as diabetes, for example, you would get emergency treatment as required, but you would not be covered for the drugs you might need to keep you well afterwards. With a specialised diabetes travel insurance policy, on the other hand, you would be covered. Similarly, if you are at high risk of a stroke and fall ill abroad, the EHIC would not cover you for emergency repatriation, whereas a specialist stroke insurance policy would.
The message then, is even if the EHIC is kept, don’t take any risks. For routine and immediate emergency medical care, it saves you money. But for more acute needs, and all related non-medical costs, you should take out travel insurance. That will not change, whatever the Brexit deal brings.
Find out more
Avanti Travel Insurance specialises in travel insurance policies for the over-50s, and offers a range of bespoke insurance services for specific medical conditions. To find out more, please visit our website.