Posted on Jun 05, 2009 by Sergio Ulloa
The European Commission recently announced that the number of Europeans using the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) has topped 180 million people. The card was introduced back in 2004 to replace the somewhat cumbersome E111 form and then phased in over a year and a half. In January 2006 the E111 form was dropped completely.
The card allows anybody insured by a member state of the European Union to easily obtain free or discounted healthcare
while on a temporary visit to another member state, although some countries will require the patient to pay towards their treatment. The card was intended to simplify the process that was originally fulfilled by the E111 form, as well as other E forms. The E111 form previously required people to request one every time they made a trip to another state in the European Union whereas the EHIC has an expiry date, much like a credit card, but more helpful.
The card now allows access to state provided healthcare to all European Union countries as well as countries in the European Economic Area
(EEA) and Switzerland, bringing the total to 31 participating countries. It is important to note however, that the EHIC is only of use if you fall sick or injured while on a temporary visit, but prohibits people from traveling for the singular purpose of receiving healthcare. The European Health Insurance Card will thankfully cover maternity care and managing symptoms of chronic medical conditions
, including renal dialysis.
There are however some issues. At the end of 2006, there were approximately 150 million Europeans walking around with the EHIC
, and even now the EHIC is only carried by about 30% of the population. While some countries have incredibly high numbers of the population carrying the EHIC, such as Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria, all of which have over 95% of the populace holding the EHIC, people in other countries have not been rushing to get the card. One example would be Greece, where only 1% of the population holds the card. The fact that only 30% of Europeans have the card has prompted the European Commission to both engage in a information campaign as well as warn people going on summer vacation
in Europe not to leave home without their EHIC.
Despite promoting the EHIC in time for the summertime, they have also warned people to make sure they take private travel insurance with them, as there are occasions and services that the EHIC will not cover. One of the main things to take note of is that the European Health Insurance Card will not cover the costs of any flights if you happen to be in a medical situation where you may need to be repatriated to your home country.
In addition, there are a number of countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal that will require you to pay either a percentage of the costs or a fixed charge for different medical services
, even if you present your valid EHIC. These may include costs for any prescriptions you receive, visits to the doctors and hospital stays. To clarify how important travel insurance would be should you fall ill while traveling; in France you may be required to pay for up to 45% of prescription costs, 30% of out patient visits to the doctor and a daily fixed charge for stays in French hospitals as well as having to pay a non-refundable 25% of the treatment costs in hospital. So even with your EHIC in your pocket, a quality travel insurance plan is still the best way to protect yourself from the costs of any unforeseen circumstances.
Please note that the European Health Insurance Card itself is FREE from your local government's health authority. Do not be fooled by any websites you stumble across which are offering the EHIC for money. Bonus points for reporting possible scams to the appropriate authorities.