Play it safe

Ronald Wright answers a reader’s query about how to obtain health care cover when travelling to France...

Question: I’m a newly coverted reader and am going to France for the first time in years to discover the Loire Valley. I haven’t been to France since a school trip 20 years ago, so I’m not sure what I need to do about health insurance. I know there used to be an agreement between the UK and France. Does that still exist or do I have to make my own arrangements? I’d be very grateful for any advice you have. Jeremy Wilson, Glasgow Answer: If you have the misfortune to fall ill or suffer an injury while staying in Europe, you will find your life very much easier if you have a European Health Insurance Card. This card will give you access to a basic level of health care in EU/EEA countries and Switzerland. It entitles you to any state medical treatment that becomes necessary during your stay on the same basis as a resident of the country in which you are staying.To ensure treatment, you should carry your EHIC with you at all times and ensure that each member of your family, including your children, has their own card.What is covered?Within the limits of the country’s own state healthcare system, you are entitled to any incidental or accidental medical treatment that will enable you to continue and complete your stay.What is not covered?Although your EHIC gives you access to state health care at the same rate as a resident of the country in which you are staying, you are not necessarily covered for the total cost of your medical treatment. Different countries provide different levels of reimbursement to their residents and you may be liable for a proportion of any costs incurred. For example, in France the state reimburses 70 per cent for visits to the GP and 80 per cent for hospitalisation; such percentages are calculated on state tariff levels. In both instances, the patient is expected to pay the difference. Thus, depending on the severity of your accident or illness, you may find yourself facing a sizeable bill to cover those costs not covered by the state. It is also worth noting that treatment in private establishments is not covered.Travel insuranceThe EHIC is not intended to be a replacement for a travel insurance policy. It is vital that, alongside your EHIC, you also take out suitable travel insurance to cover any shortfalls in reimbursements through the EHIC. However, these policies do not cover any pre-existing conditions and there are usually age limits beyond which they cannot be purchased. Repatriation is never covered by the EHIC.ValidityThe EHIC is valid for up to 5 years. To ensure continuity of cover, you should apply for a replacement card before your existing one expires. The Department of Health is currently advising UK people to check on the validity of their EHIC because new figures have revealed that more than 3 million cards are currently out of date. A spokesperson for the Department of Health points out: Anyone travelling with an expired EHIC is putting themselves at risk as they will not be covered for medical care. It is vital that UK residents holidaying in Europe carry their EHIC and take out adequate travel insurance to avoid having to pay out unnecessarily for medical costs that could be covered by a valid EHIC.’