UK expats urged to remind visiting family and friends about health care costs

by Ray Clancy on May 9, 2013

UK expats urged to remind visiting family and friends about health care costs

UK expats urged to remind visiting family and friends about health care costs

British expats in Europe are being urged to remind family and friends visiting them this summer that they are not automatically entitled to free emergency medical care. The warning comes after a survey found that nearly half of British people believe that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives them free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe and nearly one in 10 believe cardholders get free medical repatriation.

Gocompare, which conducted the research amongst British holidaymakers, says it shows that there’s considerable confusion as to what benefits the EHIC does and does not provide. As a result many believe having an EHIC makes travel insurance unnecessary while holidaying in Europe and risk being landed with big holiday medical bills should they have an illness or accident abroad.

As well as 47% believing that an EHIC entitles them to free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe, some 6% believe it entitles them to free medical care anywhere in the world. The survey also confirmed that 9% believe that having an EHIC means they can be flown back to the UK from Europe by air ambulance for free if seriously ill or injured. On top of this some 18% have never heard of the EHIC but 8% have successfully used an EHIC to get free or reduced cost medical treatment whilst in Europe. A further 3% have tried to use an EHIC abroad only for it to be rejected by the clinic or hospital they attended.

Quote from ExpatForum.com : “Hi we are going to retire in France in December. We are not of UK state retirement age and have read about a possibility of qualifying for French Healthcare for about two years.”

The firm points out that the cost for medical treatment abroad can be eye wateringly high and, if the treatment isn’t covered by an EHIC, the financial impact can be huge. Examples include £800 for one night in a ward in a Spanish hospital, £7,000 cost for the treatment of a broken ankle in Tenerife and £21,000 for treatment following multiple injuries in a car accident in Greece. It said that these were all real claims paid out under travel insurance policies so the insurer picked up the bills. Without insurance many travellers may end up having to pay for their own expensive accidents.

The firm explained that an EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the country they’re in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free or at a reduced cost in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including Switzerland. The EEA includes all 27 members of the European Union plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EHIC is not accepted in Turkey as it is not a member of the EU or the EEA.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country and does not mean you can expect to be treated as you would if you visited your UK doctor or hospital. Few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment as you’d expect from the NHS. For example, in France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

Also, in the event of an emergency, there is no guarantee that an ambulance will take you to a state hospital for treatment and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in holiday resorts are privately run. If you go or are taken to a privately run clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be of any benefit at all.

In really serious circumstances the patient may have to be transferred to a UK hospital under medical supervision. This is outside of the protection provided by an EHIC but it is usually covered by a good travel insurance policy. According to one insurer the cost of flying one seriously ill British holidaymaker home from the Canary Islands by jet air ambulance was nearly £23,000. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) replaced the old E111 form in 2006 and is free to most UK residents. Residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not eligible for EHICs.

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