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Brexit Looms, But British Holidaymakers Are Still In The Dark

It is now nearly six months to go until the UK officially leaves the EU and begins the transition period for complete autonomy, but with the deal still being argued by politicians, travel insurance comparison website Compare Cover is warning that British holidaymakers could suffer if there is a no deal.

The future of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) could be in jeopardy either way, but if no deal is made before the March 29th Brexit date, then its future is even more precarious. 

At present, the EHIC is issued free of charge and allows anyone who is insured by or covered by a statutory social security scheme of the EEA countries, as well as Switzerland, to receive medical treatment in another member state free, or at a reduced cost, on the same basis as a resident of that country.

It is estimated that 27 million people from the UK* benefit from the reciprocal healthcare that the EHIC card provides in Europe, covering an estimated £156million per year in medical costs for UK citizens under the EHIC.

Despite the Government saying in the Brexit White Paper in July** that it wanted the benefits the EHIC card gives to stay in place post Brexit, an earlier report by the House of Lords* warned that the absence of an agreement, in other words no deal, the rights afforded to holidaymaker by the EHIC card will cease.

Simon Williams, travel insurance product manager at Compare Cover, said: “Holidaymakers planning to travel to Europe need to be properly prepared for what may come post-March 2019 and during the transition period, as there is still likely to be a lot of uncertainty.

“Deal or no deal, there still has to be something legally binding in these transition arrangements that confirms that the current reciprocal rights are protected – although both the UK Government and the EU has stated in Joint Report that they intend to keep the rights – there is no guarantee at the moment.”

Simon added, “This is of great concern to us in the travel industry as research conducted on behalf of Compare Cover found that more than a third of UK travellers (37%) admit to only sometimes purchasing travel insurance or – more worryingly - not buying any at all before they depart.***

“That leaves a lot of people unprotected if they fall ill abroad, have no insurance and have no provision for emergency treatment through the EHIC scheme. For elderly travellers or those with pre-existing conditions, it might even mean that they won’t be protected at all if they travel as they won’t be covered by the EHIC, which offers cover for some pre-existing medical conditions. Not only that, costs for travel insurance may be prohibitively high as premiums would almost certainly rise in basic terms to meet increasing medical claim costs.”

A cross-party group of British MEPs are asking for EHIC to remain post Brexit after medical charities warned 29,000 kidney dialysis patients would face insurmountable costs of potentially more than £800 a week**** abroad if the card goes, for example, effectively putting holidays out of reach for people on ordinary incomes. 

Simon commented, “Political wrangling about a deal or no deal aside, the issue around the future of the EHIC card and reciprocal emergency healthcare really does need to be sorted as a matter of urgency. It could affect millions of travellers, as well as those who are already abroad. It could curtail family holidays and affect the lives of those who are already living with chronic conditions.”

The UK is officially scheduled to depart the European Union at 11pm UK time on Friday 29 March 2019, with UK residents already living in another EU country at that point, continuing to be covered by the EHIC. The transition period, or implementation period as it’s also called, will then kick in. EU law will still stand in the UK – as will the rights under the EHIC – so both parties have more time to negotiate. The UK will officially leave the EU on 31st December 2020.


*** In November 2017, One Poll conducted an online survey among 1000 randomly selected British adults.


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