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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 26 October, 2014

Explainer: Why should you get a European Health Insurance Card before travelling?

Of course we hope you don’t get sick on your holidays, but just in case…

(Image: ©TheJournal.ie)

NO ONE IS ever expecting to have an accident or get ill when they go away on holidays but unfortunately it does happen so it’s best to be prepared.

Though we might complain about healthcare here, it is mostly free, so it may be a shock when you’re handed a huge bill in the emergency department of a foreign hospital.

There are ways to avoid this, particularly if you’re travelling in a European country and it’s as simple as filling in an application either online or on paper.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) replaced the E111 forms in 2004 and if you get one it entitles you to healthcare in 30 countries at a reduced cost or even free.

How to apply

Any person who is ordinarily a resident in Ireland can apply for one of the cards either online here if you have a medical card or drugs payment card or by completing one of these forms:

You can download the form in English here and as Gaeilge here. Once you’ve completed it you can post it to your Local Health Office, where you can also pick up a form to fill in if you can’t print one yourself.

On the form you’ll need to provide some basic details but may also be asked to show evidence of your PPS number such as a P60 or a Social Services Card and in some cases proof that you are a resident here.

If your card has expired, you can also renew it online with just a few details. The card will need to be renewed every two years.

The HSE says that you will receive your card within 10 working days of receipt of your application. However if you don’t have time to wait that long, you can get a Temporary Replacement Certificate which gives you the same entitlement as a card but for a shorter period of time and can be issued at your local health office.

What does it cover?

The card guarantees that you are entitled to treatment in any public hospital in any of the 30 countries. This means that anything that might happen to you while you’re on holidays, or any medical need you might have is covered to allow you to continue your stay and come back as originally planned.

Tim Ryan, National Coordinator of EU regulations with the HSE told TheJournal.ie that generally the card is used for minor situations like stomach upsets but it can be more serious and emergency surgeries will be covered if the hospital decides this is necessary.

One thing that is not covered is planned treatment so you can’t just plan a holiday in order to get a more speedy surgery in another country.

Ryan said that the advantage of the card over private insurance is that it is free and you are entitled to it anyway.

“The same card is used in all states so it’s immediately recognisable whereas other private insurance may not be and hospitals might not know straight away what you’re covered for etc.,” he said.

The card entitles you to the same healthcare as the citizens of that country so in many cases treatment will be free and even if it’s not, you stand to make a significant saving on the costs if you have one of the cards.

Which countries are you covered in?

The card can be used in the following countries:

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Liechtenstien
Luxembourg
Malta
The Netherlands
Norway
Portugal
Poland
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain (including the Canary and Balearic Islands)
Sweden
United Kingdom
Switzerland

If you’re planning on vacationing in Croatia, you’ll also be covered there once they’re officially part of the European Union next month.

Those of you heading to the UK will not need one of these cards (though it wouldn’ t hurt to have one anyway) as you’ll be covered once you have proof of your residency in Ireland.

Ryan said that it is advisable for those of you travelling in countries not on this list to get private health insurance. However some countries, like Australia for example, have a reciprocal agreement with the State that they will look after you on their behalf. It’s worth checking with the respective embassies before you head off to see if this is the case.

Don’t be fooled

Holidaymakers were warned recently about an unofficial website, carrying the HSE’s name in its address that is trying to charge people a fee for the card.

Ryan said this is something the HSE is concerned about as it is “encroaching on a public service” as well as gathering information and holding it on a database then they have “no authority to do so”.

His advice is to go through the HSE site and access the website within it, rather than searching for it in Google or other search engines.

Get the app

(Image: iTunes)

Like most other things, there’s actually an app for the card as well. The European Commission has designed it and it has a guide on how to use the card in the various different countries. It also includes general information like emergency phone numbers, treatments covered, costs, how to claim reimbursement and who to contact in case you have lost your card.

It’s a handy one to have, it’s free and is available to download in iTunes and in the Google Play store.

Hopefully we’ve answered any questions you might have about the card. We hope you never have to use it.

Read: TD warns against website charging €15 for free health insurance card>
Read: Another 21,000 people stopped their private health insurance in Q1>

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