Almost two million people have failed to renew their European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) ahead of Brexit, a Freedom of Information request by Columbus Direct has revealed.
An Ehic is a free medical card that can be used throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which entitles you to treatment in state hospitals and GPs at the same price as residents of the country you're visiting.
Here, we explain what will happen to your Ehic after Brexit and whether you should renew your card now.
A total of 1.8 million people have let their Ehic expire since the last Brexit deadline on 29 March 2019, according to new data released by the NHS Business Services Authority.
Those travelling to Europe in the coming months could risk missing out on free or discounted medical care by failing to renew before their trip.
A recent customer survey by Columbus Direct revealed that 74% of people don't know whether their Ehic is valid and 10% haven't checked theirs within the past 12 months.
Half of customers were also confused about whether their Ehic would still be valid after Brexit, the travel insurance specialist found.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, your UK-issued Ehic will cease to be valid on the exit day. If a Brexit deal is agreed, Ehics should remain in operation until December 2020.
It's unknown what will happen after that, although the UK has stated it wants to keep the Ehic as part of future trade negotiations with the EU.
Without a valid Ehic, either you, or your insurer, would have to pay for your medical care in EU hospitals at the same rate as other foreign visitors.
Insurers have warned that premiums could rise without the protection of the Ehic scheme, and that some people may struggle to get affordable travel insurance for European travel because of ill health.
If your Ehic is lost or stolen while you're abroad and you need medical attention, you can apply for a Provisional Replacement Certificate (PRC).
A PRC gives you the same cover as an Ehic until you can return home and order a replacement.
To get a PRC, you'll need to call the Overseas Healthcare Services on +44 191 218 1999, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm.
When calling, you'll need to provide the following details:
Ehics will cover you for medical treatment only. That doesn't necessarily mean all your treatments will be free, just that you'll pay the same as locals at state-run facilities.
Some insurers will also waive the excess you have to pay on medical expenses in participating European countries if you have an Ehic.
So, while your Ehic is a handy accompaniment while you travel, it should not be considered a replacement for buying comprehensive travel insurance.
The type of travel insurance policy you'll need will vary depending on your personal circumstances, as well as your travel plans.
As a minimum, we would suggest finding a policy that offers:
|Emergency medical cover||£2m (Europe) £5m (worldwide)|
|Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure cover||£3,000|
|Personal belongings and money cover||£1,000|
|Personal liability cover||£1m|
Be sure to read the terms and conditions of a policy before taking it out, and get in touch with providers if anything is unclear in the wording.