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The summer season has arrived and many Europeans are going on vacations. But have they also thought about bringing their European Health Insurance Card?
When traveling abroad, a European may decide to bring his or her own European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), to get access and cover for possible medical treatments.
Free movement in all 27 EU countries is arguably one of the prime achievements of the European Union. EU Citizens have the right to travel without almost any restrictions. To be able to profit from this freedom, European citizens also need simple reimbursement of necessary health care they receive abroad. The EU has therefore adopted legislation for issuing one single European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that replaces the different forms that were previously used.
In the past an EU citizen who needed medical treatment during a temporary visit to another Member State needed various pieces of paper. The new standard personalized card swept away these forms. It was introduced in several stages: as of June 2004 it replaced the form which was required for short stays such as holidays, and then other forms needed by students or job seekers. Since January 1, 2006 it has been issued and is recognized in all the EU member states as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The previous regulation provided for access to different types of health care during a temporary stay in a member state other than the state of residence making a distinction between "immediately necessary care" and "necessary care". For greater protection for insured persons, provision were made to bring into line the rights of all insured persons in respect of access to benefits during a temporary stay in a member state other than the member state in which the person concerned is insured or resident. In these conditions, all insured persons are supposedly entitled to the benefits in kind which become medically necessary during their stay in the territory of another member state, taking account of the nature of the benefits and the expected length of the stay.
The EHIC makes it easier to obtain access to public sector health care (for example a doctor, a pharmacy, a hospital or a health care centre) and medical treatment one may need while staying temporarily in another country. The treatment is provided in accordance with the rules of the country that one visits, and the costs incurred are reimbursed in line with the tariff scales applied in that country. The EHIC covers only medical care which becomes necessary during a stay in another EU country, so in principle the card is not issued for deliberately seeking medical treatment in another member state. An EU citizen can only make use of the EHIC if he or she goes to a health care provider covered by the health insurance scheme provided for by law in the host state.
Presenting the EHIC entitles a person to treatment that may become necessary during his or hers trip, but doesn't allow them to go abroad specifically to receive medical care. However, maternity care, renal dialysis and managing the symptoms of pre-existing or chronic conditions that arise while abroad are all covered by the EHIC.
Spain, Switzerland, France and Portugal are examples of countries which require a hefty percentage of a person's medical costs if he or she is just traveling with an EHIC Card and no holiday insurance. Therefore, insurers claim that an EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. Moreover they claim an EHIC will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of things such as visiting a doctor or hospital stay in most member states, mountain rescue in ski resorts, and repatriation to home or lost or stolen property. For these reasons and others, insurance companies insist it is important to have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.