Millions of Brits face high medical bills in event of no deal as Ehic cards cease to be valid

Many older travellers, or those with pre-existing medical conditions, use the Ehic as a substitute for insurance

Simon Calder explains why European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) won't be valid in a no-deal Brexit

Millions of British travellers to Europe face high medical bills or the prospect of returning home early as the deadline looms for the UK to leave the EU at 11pm British Summer Time on Friday 12 April.

A health minister has warned that the government cannot guarantee access to medical treatment in the remaining 27 countries.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) tweeted: “European health insurance cards (Ehic) will no longer be valid if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.”

As EU citizens, British travellers are entitled to any medical treatment that cannot wait until they are home with the same rights to healthcare as people insured in the host country

If the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union on 12 April, as the default currently is, British visitors to the remaining EU countries, together with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, will lose their right to medical treatment.

The DHSC says: “If you’re planning to travel on or after 12 April, you should continue to buy travel insurance so you can get the healthcare treatment you need.”

But many older travellers, or those with pre-existing medical conditions, use the Ehic as a substitute for insurance.

The health minister, Stephen Hammond, said in a written answer: “The department recognises that people with some pre-existing conditions rely on the Ehic to be able to travel.”

He said that the UK had asked EU member states to maintain the status quo, “including an Ehic type arrangement with similar benefits”, to the end of 2020.

But he conceded: “It is not possible for the UK government to guarantee access unilaterally to healthcare abroad, as this depends on reciprocity from member states.”

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says: “For many travel policies in the market, the loss of the Ehic is unlikely to lead to a meaningful change to terms and conditions; any reference to the Ehic would simply be irrelevant and customers would still be able to make medical claims.”

But the organisation representing insurers warns: “Be aware that there is a small number of policies in the market that state they will only provide cover if you have and use an Ehic.

“Customers in this position should check their policy and contact their insurer.”

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The ABI also predicts that premiums may rise in the event that reciprocal healthcare ends, saying: “Claims costs within Europe are currently reduced due to the presence of the Ehic.

“In the absence of the Ehic or similar reciprocal health agreement, insurers will inevitably see an increase in claims costs – this could have a direct impact on the prices charged to consumers.”

While all EU member states provide emergency medical care to anyone requiring urgent attention, a retrospective charge will be made to non-EU citizens. The DHSC warns: “You can expect to be charged in full for any care provided without an Ehic.”

The British Medical Association says: “If patients are required to return to the UK for care, the NHS will be put under even greater pressure and face additional costs of as much as £500m per year.”

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