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Date: 09/03/2011

Brits run up medical bills after misunderstanding European Health Card

With the introduction of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), many Brits travelling around Europe have cancelled their single trip travel insurance policies, on the basis that the EHIC card provides full cover. However, the confusion over what costs this card covers is leading to extortionate medical bills for Brits unfortunate enough to fall ill or have an accident whilst abroad.

The formation and development of the European Union has seen moving across boundaries become much easier for nationals of the member states, with travellers on extended trips previously journeying on backpacker travel insurance. However, this has also led to confusion over what rights European citizens have in fellow member states and what services they are entitled to receive for free.

The EHIC is available to anyone aged over 16 who is normally resident in the UK. The card entitles the holder to receive state provided medical treatment and to receive the same level of care as nationals of that country. However, despite being provided with care, the EHIC does not mean the treatment is free; some medical costs in certain countries may be covered, but very often the costs are merely reduced rather than eradicated.

In addition, the EHIC will not entitle the holder to any private treatment, nor carriage back to the UK. For those unfortunate enough to become very ill whilst abroad, repatriation costs can run into thousands of pounds. A basic single trip travel insurance policy will normally cover these costs as standard, although a quick check through the terms and conditions is always advisable.

However, whilst not comprehensive cover, travellers should carry their EHIC with them at all times as it does identify them as a member of one of the EU countries and will allow treatment to proceed much faster whilst a claim is submitted through the relevant cover such as backpacker travel insurance.