People who have been traveling within the European Union have often enjoyed the perks of having a European Health Insurance Card. But given the talk that has been currently going around, the question arises, is the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) still valid? Here’s all you need to know about the EHIC and the new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) that will soon be making the rounds. 

Understanding the EHIC and GHIC 

On 24th December 2020, after discussions between the European Union and the United Kingdom, they decided that people can continue using the EHIC until its expiry date. However, the Government shall begin issuing the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to those applying for new cards. This card will come to replace the EHIC for most UK citizens. 

According to research, the United Kingdom has issued 27 million European Health Insurance Cards. With this EHIC, individuals are entitled to state-provided medical care if they fall ill or encountering an accident in one of the EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. This card is also applicable for citizens of the European Union residing in the United Kingdom. 

What does this card cover? 

  • Pre-existing medical conditions – In case the individual has a pre-existing condition that needs to be checked constantly, this would be covered under the EHIC • Routine maternity care – If the individual is pregnant and needs to undergo regular maternity care, this will also be covered under the card.
  • Chronic Illnesses – Illnesses like dialysis or heart-related treatment can travel knowing that they are eligible to receive this treatment at the same costs and in the same manner as citizens of the country.
  • Emergency care – Individuals who develop a serious illness or have an accident will be able to obtain treatment at a reduced cost. The treatment may also be provided free of cost.

Where does the new GHIC come in? 

All existing EHICs will continue doing the rounds until the cards expire. The usual validity of these cards is five years with the exact date printed on the front of the cards. The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) is a replacement for the EHIC. 

Under the GHIC, individuals will receive health insurance cover for existing as well as chronic illnesses. Similarly, under this card, they also provide routine maternity care or health cover in the case of accidents. However, if an individual needs treatment for severe conditions like chemotherapy or dialysis, they need to pre-arrange with the health worker, so the required arrangements are available at the destination. 

One important thing to note is that the GHIC shall not be valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, or Norway. It is also important to stress that the GHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance because while it provides limited health cover, there are many aspects covered by travel insurance, which are not covered here. For instance, private medical care or repatriation is not covered under the GHIC. 

What is the process of obtaining a GHIC? 

Eligibility for the GHIC is not too different from that of the EHIC. They can obtain it by filling in the online application form. For those looking to get this card, it would be wise to apply at least six months before your EHIC expires. The new card will arrive within ten days. 

For students looking to study in the European Union, this process of application will not work. Students have to apply by post, attaching the application form along with a letter from the UK University. They will then be given a GHIC whose validity will be based on the duration of their 

course. Those individuals who are not Irish or British citizens will have to attach their residence permit along with their visa when applying for the card.

The rules will vary slightly for EU nationals living in the United Kingdom before 1st January 2021. Given that more than 3.5 million EU nationals were residing in the UK in 2019, they have to consider a large demographic. These individuals, along with citizens of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland, are allowed to continue receiving healthcare assistance through the NHS as long as they are residents there. They can also apply for a new UK-issued EHIC card which will be valid in the above-mentioned places. 

On the other hand, frontier workers, UK students who had begun courses before 1st January 2021, and UK state pensioners who were residing in the EU at the time will have to go in for the new UK-issued EHIC card. Due to the Withdrawal Agreement, their rights remain protected by law. This same rule applies to UK nationals who were residing in the EU before the cut-off date. They have the opportunity to use their EU-issued EHIC during their travels within the European Union. 

Does this card provide cover to non-EU countries? 

The United Kingdom has reciprocal deals signed with some EU countries. New Zealand and Australia are among the countries that fall under this umbrella. According to this deal, visitors can receive emergency treatment at a cost or completely free of cost, based on the situation in the given country. All visitors are treated the same as residents of the country but unlike the coverage provided by the EHIC, pre-existing conditions are not covered under this agreement. 

However, since reciprocal agreements are not yet signed with all non-EU EHIC participants, the GHIC is to date, not considered valid in Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. However, the UK is negotiating a deal with the above countries, and British citizens already possess the ability to receive reciprocal care in Norway by providing their passports. Thus, the UK Global Health Insurance Card does provide health cover that can be useful when traveling abroad. However, it is important to be aware of the kind of treatment you can receive under it. Also, the card is free of charge, and the application process for the regular GHIC is fairly simple but to date, it only covers healthcare covered by statutory healthcare systems, which is why travel insurance is always advised in addition to obtaining a GHIC.

Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s). 

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