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Many UK travellers will have grown up with the concept of free healthcare across Europe should they need it, thanks to the introduction of the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) in 2006 (replacing the previous E111 form). With a few exceptions (repatriation costs, for example, aren’t covered, or rescue costs where specialist equipment is used, for example), EHIC covers travellers to receive free at point of delivery healthcare anywhere in the EU or extended EU area. What many people be less familiar with is the fact that, with Brexit on the horizon, UK travellers may not be able to use an EHIC in the near future. Here we consider what the current situation is with respect to EHIC usage, what the future is likely to hold and what alternatives there are.

The current situation

At the current time, UK travellers can still use the EHIC in the usual way. Applying for an EHIC is free, but needs to be done a couple of months before the planned departure date to ensure it arrives on time. Each member of a family will need a separate EHIC card, although it’s possible to include multiple family members in a single application. It’s important to take your EHIC card with you, as this needs to be presented when you access healthcare in Europe. Remember that the healthcare to which you will be entitled is only the same as what would be offered in that country to an individual with the condition you have. Whilst in most cases that won’t affect your standard of care (the vast majority of European healthcare is extremely good), some patients may find that they can’t get their usual medication or care (this can sometimes be the case for psychiatric conditions, for example, where UK care may be quite different to care elsewhere). If you don’t take your EHIC card, even if you have a valid one at home, access to treatment may be slowed and additional work is required in order to prove that you are eligible for free care. In some circumstances, care may be denied if you can’t provide adequate proof, or you may be required to pay for services!

The immediate future

According to government sources, an interim agreement has been reached with Europe until the end of 2020, ensuring that UK travellers will be able to use their EHIC card as usual. During 2020, it is envisaged that further negotiations will take place to determine what happens next. If planning a trip further ahead than 2020, or outside of the EU, additional travel health insurance is recommended.

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