These are some of the limitations that apply to the EHIC:
- The EHIC entitles UK residents to any medical treatment that proves necessary, at a reduced cost or free of charge, when they are temporarily visiting a European Union country. What many travellers do not appreciate is that the card provides for medical treatment on the same terms as the residents of the country they are visiting. This treatment may be to a much inferior standard to what they might expect to receive in the UK. Furthermore, many countries make a charge to their own nationals for medical treatment, as they do not provide a service, like the NHS, which is free at the point of use. This might result in payment of a substantial percentage of any medical costs that are incurred
- In certain European regions there is no available state funded health care. In these localities, the EHIC would be of little use to anyone needing medical treatment
- Neither does the card cover the cost of any private health treatment or services. It is strictly limited to the national health care system of the country that is being visited
- The European Health Insurance Card does not cover countries outside of the European Union
- One of the most expensive consequences of being taken ill in a foreign country is the need to be repatriated back to the UK. The EHIC will not cover the costs of bringing a traveller back home. Nor will it cover any repatriation costs in the event of a fatality.
The reality, despite what many travellers believe, is that the EHIC does not provide the level of protection of a travel insurance policy and travel insurance is therefore essential if the limitations that apply to the European Health Card are to be avoided. As long as any pre-existing conditions are disclosed, a travel insurance policy will cover almost every medical expense that may occur during a trip abroad. Relying solely on the EHIC may well result in hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds being lost on medical expenses.
The limitations of the EHIC do not mean that having one is pointless. In fact, most travel insurance providers will require their policyholders to have a card and all UK travellers should apply for one before travelling to Europe. What is most important to remember is that a European Health Insurance Card should be treated as a supplement, rather than an alternative, to a travel insurance policy. Every UK traveller should have both when they take their holiday to Europe.