What is an EHIC?
An EHIC is a European Health Insurance Card. It replaced the E111 medical cards in 2005 and if you have one, it means you can have free or discounted care in state run hospitals or doctors surgeries in any EU country. They’re also valid in Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein and a handful of others. The card is valid for five years and all members of the family have their own, including children. However, it’s not valid on cruises so bear that in mind if that’s your next holiday.
Where do you get one and how much is it?
It's completely free, all EU citizens are entitled to one. So if you're about to embark on some European travel then just go to the EHIC website and fill in the official form. Or you can call the NHS on 0300 330 1350. It's important to note that you should only use these two avenues for applying . There are websites that will charge you to make an application on your behalf – but this is completely unnecessary. If you have children, add them to your application and they'll receive their own card.
Going away with a chronic, pre-existing illness or pregnancy
Carrying the EHIC entitles you to treatment no matter what the condition or how long you've been suffering from it. It of course also covers routine maternity care. However, it will not cover you if you are going purely to be treated for the pre-existing illness.
Does it replace travel insurance?
No, it definitely doesn’t. Although the EHIC gives you great protection when it comes to state run health care, that's all it covers and it shouldn't replace your travel insurance.
In fact, some insurers now insist that you have an EHIC and many will waive your excess if you do have one.
There are a few reasons why you still need travel cover. Firstly, if you're visiting a country where citizens pay for treatment or medication, then so will you – but travel insurance will cover that bill. Second, some countries will ask you to make a 'patient contribution' up front. In 2014, the rules changed and you're no longer able to claim this back. Again this could be covered by your travel insurance but check the T&Cs.
Plus there are plenty of other benefits that come from having travel insurance, like a flight home if needed or money to replace lost or stolen property. If you have both travel insurance and the EHIC then you'll be as protected as you possibly can be.
Make sure your EHIC is still in date
Your EHIC will expire after 5 years, so you could very quickly find yourself no longer covered. Make sure you check all your family's cards in plenty of time. When on holiday, keep the cards with you at all times – anything could happen and you never know when you might require some medical care abroad.