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‘Will my EHIC cover me abroad if I develop coronavirus?’

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25/06/2020
As popular tourist destinations re-open in time for summer, many Brits will be raring to travel overseas as lockdown measures are eased. But will your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) cover you?

After three months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, popular European destinations are opening up and a major boon is that many, particularly in Spain, aren’t requiring Brits to quarantine after arrival.

While our trips are eagerly awaited to help prop up the ravaged tourism industry, one major obstacle to overseas travel remains.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to advise against all but essential international travel. There’s no end date to this advice but the FCO said it is under constant review.

This leaves holidaymakers in a grey area as Brits want to get back to normal, are being welcomed by international governments, but a trip overseas would be a breach of the FCO guidance.

It would also render travel insurance policies void.

To date, just a handful of insurers are offering coronavirus cover, including the Post Office and Saga, but the policies are limited as they generally cover medical expenses and repatriation if customers fall ill with the virus during a trip abroad. They don’t generally cover any coronavirus-related claims pre-departure.

Trailfinders on the other hand, has launched a coronavirus policy providing cover for cancellation prior to travel, curtailment of a trip, overseas medical expenses and extra accommodation costs, if travellers are required to quarantine. It added it is absorbing the additional premium cost.

A survey by specialist insurer Medical Travel Compared which caters for people with medical conditions, found that 75% of travellers won’t take out insurance if Covid-19 cancellations aren’t covered.

As such, there’s a real risk people will forego travel insurance altogether for fear they won’t be covered, or that the premiums will be too high, and will now question whether their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will offer protection.

European Health Insurance Card

The EHIC entitles Brits to free or discounted state-provided healthcare when on holiday in EU countries, including Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Government advice states it will continue to be valid in the EU until the end of the Brexit transition period (31 December 2020).

Both the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and its arm’s length body, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA), confirmed the reciprocal healthcare arrangements the UK has with the EU mean that any UK national / insured person (usually resident in UK) can access state-provided healthcare for Covid-19 in that country, on the same basis as a national of that country until the end of the transition period.

This includes the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for visitors, including those who hold a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC) where they don’t have their EHIC to hand overseas, and healthcare for UK-state pensioners and benefit holders through the S1 certificate.

Further, UK residents temporarily in any country in the EU/European Free Trade Association (EFTA) who require medical treatment, will still be able to make use of the EHIC as it is still valid for the rest of the year.

A joint statement from the organisations, read: “Through the transition period the UK will continue to apply existing provisions on coordination of social security schemes including concerning sickness benefits in kind. The UK will accept EHICs, PRCs and S1s as it does now and invoice in the usual way. We would use these documents as demonstration of entitlement in the usual way including for treatment for Covid-19 or any other applicable conditions.”

“Due to coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak, you must follow the advice of local authorities, be ready to comply with self-isolation, testing or quarantine requirements. You will need to rely on the local health system.”

‘Not an alternative to travel insurance’

The bodies also advise that anyone travelling overseas, whether to the EU or elsewhere in the world, should take out comprehensive travel insurance.

There are limitations of the free EHIC, despite it providing coronavirus cover overseas. One major factor is that if you’re visiting a country where citizens pay for healthcare, you will also need to fund the medical costs. However, the EHIC won’t cover medical costs from private healthcare providers and it also isn’t valid on cruises. It also won’t cover you for any coronavirus-related claims pre-departure such as if you need to cancel your trip.

Tommy Lloyd, MD of Medical Travel Compared, said: “EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance as it covers some free healthcare support, dependent on the country you visit, but all medical treatment costs may not be covered.

“It won’t cover any private medical healthcare or costs such as being flown back to the UK. This is why travel insurance is recommended in addition to having an EHIC. Travel insurance is all about protecting you and your booked travel arrangements, both before you depart and for the duration of your trip. It’s important to purchase travel insurance to ensure you don’t receive any hidden bills should you require medical attention whilst abroad.

“There are other reasons than Covid-19 that can cause disruptions to your trip, as well as cause illness and travel insurance adds a layer of protection against those reasons.”

David Ness, commercial director at Trailfinders, said: “The EHIC will continue to operate irrespective of whether the traveller has valid travel insurance.  Some budget travel insurance policies may not be valid unless you hold a valid EHIC, however.

“It is important to always purchase travel insurance at the time of booking your holiday, as the EHIC does not provide any cover for pre-departure cancellation nor the cost of bringing you back home on medical grounds which can often run into many thousands of pounds.”

He added that following the announcement of ‘Air Corridors’, Trailfinders predicts the number of Brits taking out travel insurance will dramatically increase given the significant financial risks of travelling uninsured.

The NHS BSA also revealed that as of 31 May 2020, there were 24.4 million valid UK-issued EHICs in circulation. But just over three million EHICs expired or are due to expire between 1 January and 1 July 2020. Of these, just 188,000 have been renewed since January 2020.

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