03 June 2013

Posted by Discount Insurance on Monday, June 03, 2013
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Recent cases where European hospitals have refused to take EHIC cards highlight the need for travel insurance.

When most Brits jet off for their summer holidays, the chances are they’re too busy planning which sights to visit first to think too much about insurance. Especially if you’re travelling within Europe, the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is there to make sure they can access healthcare across the Union, isn’t it?

Well, as the recent fiasco in Spain has proven, it doesn’t always work like that. The European Commission has just announced that it plans to take legal action against Spain over instances where Spanish hospitals have refused British tourists with only an EHIC.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that some couriers and taxi drivers have even been offered deals to take patients to facilities which do not accept the card, while other travellers claim to have been asked for credit card details before they were treated, as well as their travel insurance information.

Even at facilities that refused the EHIC, travel insurance was accepted - but those who did not have a separate policy could well have faced hefty bills.

It’s one thing if a hospital is clearly breaking the rules, but travellers are not always aware of what the EHIC covers. Research from a leading comparison website showed that nearly half of Brits thought their EHIC gave them free emergency medical care anywhere in Europe, while six per cent thought it offered the same access to emergency treatment anywhere in the world.

In fact, the card entitles travellers to the same level of state medical care that is offered to that country’s citizens. In many countries, this will mean that treatment is free, but in others this will simply lead to reduced costs. Should you be faced with any medical bills to pay yourself, travel insurance could save you from an unexpected cost.

The card is not strictly limited to the EU, but applies across the European Economic Area (EEA) - which means that travellers to Norway, Switzerland and Iceland can still reap the benefits. However, some tourists have tried to use their cards in Turkey as well, where the cards are not accepted because the country does not belong to the EEA.

Should tourists find themselves in need of emergency care, there is no guarantee that an ambulance will travel to a state-run facility. Medical centres in many holiday resorts are also privately run, meaning that EHIC will be of little use.

But the research also found that holidaymakers were misled on their entitlement to some of the most expensive services. If something extremely serious was to happen to a tourist, nearly a tenth of UK passengers thought that their EHIC would entitle them to be flown home by air ambulance for medical help in Britain.

This is not the case - EHIC does not come with any entitlement to repatriation if you’re taken seriously ill. Without travel insurance to cover the cost, flying home by air ambulance could set you back thousands. The researchers heard from one insurer that flying a patient back from the Canary Islands had cost as much as £23,000.

EHIC is a huge asset for British tourists, offering free or reduced cost healthcare to travellers with the EEA. But it can’t cover everything. For that, you need to make sure you’ve chosen the right travel insurance policy.

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