The European Health Insurance Card and a UK Exit from the EU
What would happen to the very useful European Health Insurance Card system in the event the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU)? The UK and Europe Let’s be clear up front – this ...
What would happen to the very useful European Health Insurance Card system in the event the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU)?
The UK and Europe
Let’s be clear up front – this article is entirely neutral as to the pros and cons of the UK staying in or leaving the European Union. That is a matter for political debate. What is clear, though, is that something that would only a few years ago have been inconceivable - a UK exit - is now a very real possibility sometime in the second half of the second decade of this century. No doubt there will be intense political argument on this issue between 2015 and 2017, including during the coming general election period. Yet in terms of more mundane issues, what effect would an exit be likely to have on the European Health Insurance Card system?
In past times
Just in case you didn’t know, the EHIC is a piece of plastic that you can take with you when leaving the UK for another EU member state destination. If you need urgent medical treatment while you are abroad, it will allow you to obtain it on the same basis as a local citizen. What that means is that if such treatment would be free to them, then it should be free to you too.
It’s sometimes overlooked, though, that long before the system and its predecessor the E111 were introduced, many millions of people from the UK still went on holiday - and not only to Western Europe but all over the world. In those days, they would usually cover the risks of incurring medical expenses by purchasing appropriate holiday travel insurance. In fact, even with the European Health Insurance Card, that is still highly advisable, as the EHIC system doesn’t cover every conceivable medical expense you might incur should you meet with accident or illness when on holiday or travelling for business. Even so, nobody seriously disputes that EHIC has been a major boost in terms of increasing traveller confidence and also helping to keep down the cost of travel insurance.
What will happen should the UK exit?
The only real answer is, of course, nobody has a clue! No political party is likely to want to speculate over this (and any related questions) for fear of giving momentum to the idea that a UK exit is inevitable. As such, even if contingency planning has been done in Whitehall, it is unlikely to be published on this or a number of arguably much more important aspects of a theoretical UK - EU parting of the ways.
Even so, it is possible to have something of an intelligent speculation about what would happen in this area in the event of the UK departure:
• A number of non-EU countries and territories, most notably Switzerland, operate reciprocal EHIC arrangements even though they are not full member states of the European Union. It doesn’t seem impossible that this type of arrangement would be extendable to the UK if it left the European Union.
• Given the number of much higher priority areas that would need to be disentangled in the eventuality of an exit, it would seem unlikely that EHIC would be even remotely near the top of anyone’s priority list at the outset. It would therefore seem likely that its use would continue for some considerable time anyway.
The bottom line is that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason why a UK withdrawal from the European Union should lead to the immediate overnight cancellation of the European Health Insurance Card. It is likely to be continued even if the product is renamed and perhaps re-aligned alongside revised forms of travel insurance that would take up the slack.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
P.K. Chong is the Managing Director of All About EHIC. As a major insurance authority, we provide information and top up insurance for those travellers with an European Health Insurance Card, known as the EHIC. This top up insurance will cover issues not covered by the EHIC card.