ad Just a third of Brits say they own a GHIC card ahead of what is expected to be a bumper summer season for foreign holidays. The replacement for the EU-wide EHIC card, the General Health Insurance Card (GHIC) was introduced in the wake of Brexit to ensure British holidaymakers could continue to enjoy discounted healthcare when travelling to the continent on holiday.
The EHIC entitles holders – who must be citizens of an EU country – to enjoy the same healthcare benefits available to citizens and residents of the countries they visit. Although that doesn’t always mean free medical care, all EU countries offer heavily subsidised services to their own citizens. The EHIC extends those benefits to all EU citizens.
In the wake of the country’s departure from the EU, UK residents were no longer able to apply for an EHIC card. However, the government was quick to negotiate a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the bloc which would allow British holidaymakers to access cheap medical care throughout Europe.
In return, EU citizens can still get free emergency care through the NHS when they visit the UK.
But low take up of the GHIC means that up to 34 million Brits could travel to Europe this year with no option but to pay the full cost of medical care if they fall ill or have an accident. Without public health subsidies, treatment can be very expensive. According to one study, foreign visitors can face paying up to 12 times more for a hospital stay than the average cost of a five star hotel.
How the GHIC works
Even when the UK was a member of the EU, British citizens were not automatically entitled to subsidised healthcare in other EU countries. The EHIC is an opt-in scheme, which means you have to apply for it – and carry your card with you as proof – in order to enjoy its benefits.
The GHIC works in the same way. Any British citizen can apply for one for free through the NHS. Once you have your card, it is important to carry it with you. If you fall ill and need medical assistance while abroad, you have to present your GHIC in order to claim cheap medical care.
The GHIC is valid in all EU member states plus Switzerland. It doesn’t cover all healthcare services. The term used is anything considered ‘medically necessary’, which covers all forms of emergency care, plus specific treatments for diagnosed illnesses, such as prescribed medications.
The GHIC is only accepted by clinics and hospitals that work as part of the state healthcare service in the country you are visiting. It won’t be accepted by private providers. This can be confusing, as in some countries – Spain, for example – clinics and hospitals often offer private services as well as working under contract for the public system.
Unsuspecting holidaymakers can sometimes think they are getting cheap public care but then receive a big bill because they were in fact put down as a private patient. That’s another reason to carry the GHIC and present it at any medical facility you go to, checking that it will be accepted first.
The need for travel insurance
With take up of the GHIC so low among Brits, it makes the push to encourage holidaymakers to take out travel insurance even more important. Travel insurance gives you the option to claim back any medical expenses incurred for emergency treatment abroad.
In fact, travellers are encouraged to take out travel insurance even if they do have a GHIC card. Insurance provides extra protections for those situations where you might unwittingly be treated as a private patient.
Travel insurance also provides cover for things not included under the terms of the GHIC, like medical repatriation. This is where, usually in cases of serious illness or injury, you are transferred home for long-term care and rehabilitation. If you don’t have insurance, you would have to pay for this.
Finally, travel insurance also bundles in lots of other protections on top of medical cover. This includes things like cancellations, curtailments (having to cut short your holiday), missed departures, personal injury cover, personal liability, and lost luggage. So while the GHIC is a handy fall back to have, travel insurance is by far and away the safest way to protect yourself financially ahead of your summer holiday.