As the year draws to a close, so will Brexit negotiations – leaving Britons to get used to a host of new rules from 1 January 2021.
One of the most drastic changes for holidaymakers is the removal of the European Health Insurance Card, which currently gives travellers the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another EU country.
Whilst the Government does not collect data on how many times a person uses their EHIC abroad, there were almost 27million valid UK EHICs in circulation as of 31 December 2019. This suggests there will be a massive gap in health cover come January.
In 2019, the UK received more than 290,000 claims for medical treatments under the EHIC and the Provisional Replacement Certificate, a temporary pass which you can use if you are eligible for an EHIC but don’t have it with you. The value of these claims was nearly £150million.
The EHIC scheme is coming to an end for most at the end of this year as we leave the EU
The only people who will be eligible for a card from 1 January 2021 are UK students studying in the EU, some British state pensioners who live in the EU and their families, and EU nationals in the UK.
For years, experts have called on consumers to buy travel insurance alongside their EHIC as it provides even more cover.
This is because the EHIC is limited to covering people for emergency or necessary medical care at the same cost as a resident in the country they are visiting. As such, other costs related to falling ill while abroad are excluded.
For example, an EHIC will not cover the costs of any emergency medical repatriation back to the UK on health grounds – something that is covered by travel insurance.
But despite travel insurance offering better cover, a significant proportion of British holidaymakers do not take it out.
A spokesperson for the travel industry body, ABTA said: ‘Our research has consistently found that 1 in 5 holidaymakers travel overseas without insurance, some relying solely on the EHIC card.
‘Once we leave the EU on 1 January 2021, it is even more important that travellers have travel insurance in place, ensuring that it covers any activities they plan to do and that they declare any pre-existing medical conditions when speaking to their insurer.’
It is urging holidaymakers to purchase travel insurance before heading abroad – even if they are one of the few who can still access a EHIC.
Having travel insurance will be more important than ever when the EHIC rules change
What does my travel insurance need to cover?
Getting travel insurance is easy, but knowing exactly what you need to get included in that cover can be more tricky.
ABTA recommends travellers get medical cover of £2million for travel to Europe. It says this level of cover is fairly standard, except for on the very cheapest travel insurance policies.
If travellers have pre-existing medical conditions, they should also make sure that their medical declaration is up-to-date.
Brian Brown is head of insight at Defaqto, which provides star ratings for financial products including travel insurance. He said: ‘A good level of cover for Europe would be £2million for medical expenses, and virtually every policy in the market offers that limit or more, so there should be no worries about that.
‘What holidaymakers should look for is the number of nights they are allowed to be away at one time, and the level of cover for things like repatriation following illness, hospital benefits and personal liability.’
Make sure you can get home if you’re ill or injured
Knowing what your insurance will cover when it comes to repatriation is particularly important.
For example, if you are in plaster when discharged from the hospital, you might need your policy to cover a seat with extra legroom on the plane.
It could also be a problem if your partner and children want to return home if you are ill, but your policy only covers repatriation for you.
The costs of transfers to an airport is also something to check in the small print, as you could need the cost of a transfer home in the UK covered if you have a medical need, such as a taxi if you can’t drive.
Additionally, the costs of extra accommodation will be necessary if you have to stay in the country for a few more days, for instance, while waiting for a flight home. Airlines often won’t let you travel with a new plaster cast.
You may also need accommodation for the people travelling with you, for example if your partner is staying in a hotel nearby while you are in hospital.
Another useful clause to look out for is cover for costs such as accommodation, tickets and meals that you paid for in advance, but can’t use while in hospital.
Injuries sustained abroad can cost travellers thousands if they are not properly insured
How much can injuries cost without insurance?
Now holidaymakers cannot rely on their EHIC, any injuries sustained abroad could cost them dearly if they do not have the correct insurance.
This is Money asked several insurers how much it would cost if a healthy male, with no pre-existing medical conditions, broke his arm abroad. The results differed hugely.
A 25 year old that had a fall and injured his arm would face very different charges in various European countries, according to research by Aviva.
It found that in Spain, the cost of the repair would be £285 – £85 more expensive than France where it would cost £200.
For those travelling to Greece it would cost £250, whilst those in Portugal would pay £220.
The results are based on a person attending an emergency room in a public hospital, being diagnosed with a confirmed fractured humerus, having a cast applied, being discharged the same day and being fit to fly on their original flight home.
Meanwhile, Admiral Insurance provided its prices for the same traveller based on a trip to France.
Whilst it is not currently quoting single trip policies to France due to FCDO advice against travel there, it said that it could cover a single male from as little as £8.47 based on a seven-night stay, were restrictions lifted.
If the traveller in France broke his arm and had no insurance, they would be out of pocket for the approximate amounts below:
• Lower arm fracture, requiring surgery and inpatient stay: £3,200 to £4,000
• Lower arm fracture, only requiring a cast for immobilisation, treated as an outpatient: £500 to £1,000
If the traveller was not travelling against FCDO advice, and the reason for the fracture was accidental, then an Admiral policy would cover the injury.
There would be an excess to pay and the amount would depend on what tier of cover they had bought:
• Admiral Tier (lowest) £100
• Gold Tier (medium) £75
• Platinum Tier (highest) £50
Meanwhile, LV= said on average, the same customer getting travel insurance from them would expect to pay in the region of £29 for a policy with LV= for a week in France.
Whilst it could not say exactly how much that particular claim would cost, LV= paid an average of £620 for upper arm injuries.
The excess, which is £90 for medical claims, would have been deducted from this amount.
These figures show how quickly costs add up abroad, and highlight why having travel insurance will soon be more important than ever.
A British Insurance Brokers’ Association spokesperson said: ‘The cost of medical treatment does vary across the world, with countries such as the USA, Canada and Japan among the most expensive.
‘In 2018 UK insurers paid £209million in medical insurance claims. It is worth considering that though the average claim is a little over £1,300, many claims run to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds depending on the severity of the condition being treated and the need for medical repatriation.
‘The question people need to ask is: “How would I afford treatment without any medical insurance protection in place?”‘
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