What does Brexit mean for EHIC holders?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows people insured by the statutory social security scheme of the European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland to avail of medical treatment in another member state without paying additional charges and at the initial reduced cost. This is quite helpful for people travelling across the EU, especially if they have a preexisting medical condition, need regular treatment, or even had a one-off need to visit a hospital. People would not have to worry about the additional expense of healthcare since in general, it tends to lean on becoming quite expensive.

Over the last couple of years, the UK issued 27 million EHIC Cards to the people there. These cards cover all pre-existing conditions and basic maternity tests when needed while travelling through the EU.

However, there are a couple of changes with the EHIC being discussed post the decision of the UK leaving the European Union. The UK Government already invoked Article 50 and the rest is being discussed effectively for a final verdict on leaving the EU. Prime Minister Boris Johnson negotiated a longer transition period to allow discussions between the UK and EU to further decide their relationship and how it would play out, post the Brexit finalisation. This created a period that would stretch till the 31st of December 2020 during which all EU laws would apply to the UK.

What are the two ways that the conversation could end?

The UK works on a proper deal with the EU.
Depending on the details of the deal, a lot of the changes will only be cemented at that point. However, it is quite likely that the UK and EU would work together moving forward. There would probably be a lot of concessions made allowing the UK certain perks while the UK would treat them according to its terms.

If the UK doesn’t get a deal with the EU
The UK would be treated like any other country around the world that is not a part of the EU. People would have to handle visits, healthcare, travel, the way they would if they were in another country that was not a part of the EU.

The conversation is now going down the path of what would happen to a lot of the UK laws currently in sync and governed by the EU. Many of the systems in place including motor vehicle tests, financial systems, and health rules that were currently governing the EU, and by extension the UK, would no longer be valid. The UK would, in turn, have to create their own systems to govern themselves and would have to come up with arrangements on how those would blend in with the rest of the EU.

What would this mean for healthcare or the EHIC in the UK?

In terms of their healthcare and the EHIC card, the entire process would be completely reliant on whether the UK works on a deal or doesn’t get one. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) may not be valid if there’s a no-deal Brexit. This depends on arrangements with individual countries and might mean individuals would need to pay for treatment in full. The other alternative for this could also be getting a separate insurance plan only for the duration of the trip or the country being visited.

Check the guidance for the country you’re travelling to and make sure it supports the EHIC card. Furthermore, travellers would have to check the guidelines of the insurance company backing them up. The EHIC and insurance company usually work together to provide people with the assistance they need so all the details about the UK and the EU would be written in the terms and conditions.

The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and people should have both when they travel abroad. If you’re using an EHIC issued by the UK, it will still be valid until the UK leaves the EU which is supposed to be happening at the end of 2020 at the earliest.

Although there have been conversations extending the Brexit finalisation date to the end of 2020, different countries within the EU have their own rules about cross border healthcare. Some of these have been mentioned below.

The Governments in Spain and Belgium said UK tourists will be entitled to medical care, as long as the same if done for their citizens when in the United Kingdom. The Portuguese no-deal law guarantees healthcare to UK tourists who show a valid passport, until the end of 2020.

UK citizens in Ireland, whether for a visit or living there, will be able to access healthcare on the same basis that they do now. Whether the UK manages a deal or not, there would be no change in this regard.

Although the system might seem like it is a clear, black and white, it isn’t. There have been talks about the EHIC separately with the UK and EU stating that they would want the citizens to receive healthcare if they had any issues while on holiday. So even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, it seems like the terms of the EHIC would still be negotiated so people receive some benefit from it.

This might follow similar lines as the UK did when they created separate healthcare rules for countries that are not a part of the EU like Australia and New Zealand. The schemes stated that people receive emergency healthcare at a subsidised cost. Additionally, deals made between the UK and other countries, not connected with the EU, would stay unchanged, whether a Brexit deal is arrived at or not.

Who can you turn to for assistance with an EHIC card?

To contact the NHS Business Services Authority’s Overseas Healthcare Services.
Call the NHS Business Services Authority on +44 (0)191 218 1999 for more information. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm and Saturday 9 am to 3 pm (UK time).