EHIC stands for European Health Insurance Cards and it entitles you to healthcare, similar to that which you would receive from the NHS, in 27 European countries. It was introduced in 2006 and replaced the old E11 forms that you used to need to take with you. If you fall ill or have an accident while visiting one of these countries then you should not have to pay for healthcare if you present your EHIC, and if you do it should be at a subsidised rate. You will have the same rights relating to treatment that citizens of that country would have.
There have recently been some problems reported where some hospitals have not accepted the card, and people have had to pay full price for the treatment which they have received, particularly in Spain. Also, if you have travel insurance then you will be able to claim back any money that you do have to pay out.
Be wary of your travel insurance small print
It is always worth taking an EHIC with you when you go on a trip to another European country, as without it you will almost certainly have to pay for all the treatment that you receive. The problems that have been reported do seem to be in the minority. The card can be obtained for free so you do not have anything to lose by applying for one and taking it with you. It may also invalidate your travel insurance if you do not have one of these cards, as this is often a condition that is stipulated in the small print. Some insurers will also waive the excess that you would normally have to pay if you have an EHIC card.
The EHIC should not be used as a substitute for travel insurance; instead they should both be used together. This will provide you with the most protection if you were to need treatment. There are certain things that may not be covered by the EHIC such as any prescriptions that you need, or if you have to travel to hospital by ambulance. Travel insurance will also offer additional protection if you are unable to travel due to illness, or if you have to delay your flight home due to the treatment that you are still receiving. These are both things that the EHIC does not cover.
Check your dates before travelling
EHICs are valid for six years, so you should check that yours will still be valid for the dates that you will be travelling if you have already had your card for a while. If you need to apply for a new card, because yours is due to expire or if it is your first card, then this can be done through the NHS website, over the phone or by post. It does not cost you anything to receive a EHIC and it will be delivered to your home address. Be aware that if you are travelling as a family, then all parties will need their own EHIC and you will have to apply on behalf of any children that are below the age of sixteen. Avoid sites that offer to apply for a card on your behalf for a fee, as they will not do anything that you cannot do yourself – and by doing it yourself, you will have no fees to pay.