As a frequent traveller, you are likely familiar with the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). EHICs allow UK citizens to access healthcare in EU countries, as well as countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) – Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – and Switzerland. EHICs have proven invaluable for UK travellers for many years, but the Brexit question could make things far more complicated.
The situation as it stands
During the initial negotiations between the UK and the EU, it was agreed that EHIC cards would be protected during the transition period. This meant that, until 2021 at least, EHICs would continue to be valid – which is good news for those looking to ensure their health needs are met while travelling in the relevant countries.
However, the continuation of the EHIC is dependent on both the UK and the EU ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement – which, with the bill having already been subjected to one parliamentary defeat, looks increasingly unlikely, though further political developments are to be expected.
What happens if the UK does not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement?
If the UK does not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, a “no deal” Brexit is likely. This would almost certainly mean the EHICs are no longer valid as of March 29th, 2019.
If the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, what happens after the transition period?
If the UK does ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, then the EHIC will be valid through to 2021, with its final status determined during the transition period – though there’s no word on its potential future at this point.
What does this mean for travellers?
Mostly, for the moment, no one knows. As things stand at the time of writing, if you are injured while travelling in the EU/EEA/Switzerland, you can access healthcare as normal – but this could be subject to change.
If the EHIC is abandoned due to a breakdown in the Brexit process – or is not continued following the end of the transition process – then the situation becomes extremely damaging. Illnesses and – particularly – injuries are always complex: you have to go through the usual process of managing treatment, dealing with the injury, and decide whether or not you need to hire a personal injury lawyer for injuries sustained due to negligence, and complete a successful recovery. If you become unwell or sustain an injury abroad, the process becomes even more challenging, which is difficult enough; if EHICs are abandoned, then a third layer of difficulty is added – which is far from welcome.
If the EHIC is no longer available to UK residents, the only option for accessing medical care will be to pay for it directly. This means self-funding or, preferably, opting for travel insurance that includes medical coverage. Given that travel insurance offering broad-spectrum illness and injury cover tends to be more expensive, you may need to tweak your travel budget accordingly.
EHICs have undeniably become more complicated as a result of the Brexit process. All any traveller can do, for the moment, is wait for updates, and be prepared to purchase enhanced insurance if things don’t pan out as you may hope.