The benefits of having a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, are being overestimated by holidaymakers, new research has shown.
While having one gives you access to state-run medical care in the European Union, 59 per cent of travellers wrongly believe it will give them free medical treatment anywhere in the world.
Those who rely on an EHIC rather than buying travel insurance are risking big medical bills along with a lack of protection if they need to cancel their holiday or their belongings are lost, stolen or damaged.
18 per cent of consumers think the EHIC will be scrapped when the UK leaves the EU
The EHIC allows you access to free or reduced cost state-provided healthcare in certain countries while you are abroad.
This will be significantly less than you would pay without the card, and in some cases if the local state-run healthcare is free, then you won’t pay a thing.
The research, from comparison website GoCompare, shows that nine per cent of people wrongly believe an EHIC would entitle them to an air ambulance flight home if they were seriously injured or ill and five per cent thought the British Embassy would arrange for them to be flown home if they had one.
While a further four per cent think having an EHIC means you don’t need to buy travel insurance for a trip abroad.
If you are seriously injured while abroad, your travel insurance will cover the cost of repatriation back to the UK and if you don’t have a policy in place you will have to come up with the funds yourself. The costs can be extremely high too, with a flight back from the Canary Islands, for example, coming in at £23,000.
The cost of treatment abroad varies depending on which country you’re visiting, but recent research from the Association of British Insurers listed several example costs.
These included, a bill of £125,000 to pay for surgery following a jet-ski accident in Turkey, £25,000 for an air ambulance from Majorca to the UK, and £74,000 to treat a brain haemorrhage in Cuba.
The website asked 1,461 consumers about the EHIC and their opinion on what will happen to it after Brexit. Of those asked, 18 per cent said they thought the EHIC could be redundant in a year when Brexit happens. While four per cent said they wouldn’t now apply for one because the UK was leaving the European Union.
The EHIC gives free or reduced cost state-run healthcare in certain EU countries
Georgie Frost, spokespeson for GoCompare, commented: ‘Each year, thousands of holidaymakers use an EHIC to access free or discounted emergency medical treatment in 27 European countries, and everyone travelling to Europe this summer should have one. They are free, so no excuses.
‘However, the EHIC is NOT an alternative to having suitable travel insurance. The fact it’s called an ‘insurance card’ is quite confusing.
‘It’s vital people understand the benefits and limitations of the card to avoid becoming one of the horror stories we read about when people become seriously ill but have no cover and rely on family, friends or crowdfunding to pay for medical bills or an air ambulance home. When you consider that a decent policy can cost less than a pair of flip flops, it’s not worth taking the risk.’
The card is valid in all European Union countries plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. If you are a UK resident you can apply for a card via the NHS website, it’s free and lasts for five years.
If you use one, your travel insurer may also scrap the excess you have to pay. This is because with an EHIC your treatments costs are likely to be lower and therefore your insurer won’t have to pay out as much.
Our guide to why you need a free EHIC lists exactly how they work and the countries included.
We often write about the high costs of medical treatment abroad and recently reported on Aviva’s claims figures, as the biggest insurer in the UK.
Medical claims were the most common reason for Aviva customers claiming on their travel insurance last year, used by 33 per cent of customers, followed by 28 per cent claiming for cancellation for a specific circumstance and 13 per cent for lost or stolen personal items or baggage.
Last year one customer made a claim for £182,000 for treatment for a stroke while in the USA while another made a claim for £191,000 for pneumonia in Malaysia. The most expensive average cost of claims at £1,300 were made in the USA, followed by £1,200 in Canada and Mexico.
While in Europe the cost of an average claim in Spain was £600, with the highest recorded last year at £52,000 for a heart attack, and £800 in Cyprus, with the highest at £65,000 for a stroke.
How to avoid scam EHIC sites
Unfortunately several websites have been set up in the past few years selling EHIC cards for a fee.
They often charge around £20 and will ask for your details and then send you the card.
While some scams are easy to spot, these websites are listed high in Google searches (often in the top spot) and look very similar to the genuine site.
But these are fraudulent websites and you do not have to pay for the card.
Make sure you only visit the official website site address at: www.ehic.org.uk