The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) served as a replacement for the earlier healthcare scheme E111. EHIC is shaped like a credit card, which any citizen of the EU can use to gain access to healthcare across the EU. Apart from the EU countries, EHIC also can be used in Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. Since Brexit, there is a misconception that the EHIC is not valid for use. That is not the case as part of the Brexit deal signed between the UK government and the EU is that those individuals in possession of the EHIC can continue its usage until the card expires. As the EHIC has a validity of 5 years, many individuals owning these cards could have a solid 3-4 years more of validity left on their EHICs. However, the arrangement only covers the EU and excludes the 4 nations of Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway. Any traveller to these countries with an EHIC will find the card validity ceased on December 31, 2020.
A question frequently asked is does having an EHIC mean one need not worry about getting travel insurance? This is not the case as an EHIC was never to serve as a substitute for standard travel insurance. EHIC offers limited coverage with only access to state healthcare same as any citizen of the EU nation one visits. If the citizens of that nation need to pay a small sum for tests in a state hospital, an EHIC holder will need to do the same. The NHS will not reimburse any such payments. Although there are areas covered by the EHIC that do not receive coverage with travel insurance such as receiving treatment for any pre-existing illness or routine antenatal care etc. Probably the major disadvantage of EHIC is only offering access to state medical facilities. There are several nations in the EU that have a larger private healthcare system, with getting access to state healthcare much more difficult. Besides, in case of a need to be medically transported back to the UK, the EHIC will not offer coverage.
Considering these drawbacks of EHIC having travel insurance additionally is always recommended. While EHIC could be used for minor medical care including visits to a state healthcare facility, the travel insurance will ensure that there is coverage for more serious issues. While state-run medical facilities are of a high standard in most Western European countries, the same does not necessarily apply to countries of Eastern Europe. Another difference between the UK and certain nations in Europe is that patients are required to pay for their food arrangements and bedding which also applies to EHIC holders. These will be taken care of by travel insurance.
One of the major drawbacks of the EHIC is the exclusion of repatriation home due to medical reasons to the UK. Travel by air ambulance is excluded from EHIC coverage so patients that are injured or medically ill while in Europe wanting to return to the K, will need to make provisions on their own. Subject to their need to travel by air ambulance, there may be a need for nurses or doctors that makes it quite expensive as a one-way trip from Europe can cost as much as £20k plus. That is where having travel insurance could save the day, as it covers this sort of medical emergency travel costs.
UK citizens with EHIC
As per government estimates, there are around 27 million UK citizens owning EHICs. These were issued before December 31 2020 and Brexit happening. There was a surge in applications to the NHS for EHICs in the winter months of 2020 because of the lack of information on a replacement scheme.