The new free-to-obtain Global Health Insurance Card, launched in January 2021, gives UK citizens access to free or reduced-rate medical treatment (including for a pre-existing or chronic condition) when on holiday, studying or travelling for business in the European Union (EU) as before, but with fewer countries included in the scheme than the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that it replaces.
The GOV.uk website also notes that reciprocal health cards issued by EU member states will continue to be accepted by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), and that current EHICs are valid as long as they are in date.
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are not included under the new GHIC; although the UK Government website notes that the UK is currently seeking to conclude ‘new, comprehensive agreements on social security co-ordination, including reciprocal healthcare, with the European Economic Area (EEA) European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States and Switzerland’. A separate agreement on necessary healthcare has been reached with Norway.
The ongoing importance of travel insurance
“Our deal with the European Union (EU) ensures the right for our citizens to access necessary healthcare on their holidays and travels to countries in the EU will continue,” said Edward Argar, British Health Minister. “The GHIC is a key element of the UK’s ‘Future Relationship’ with the EU and will provide certainty and security for all UK residents.”
However, some, including UK finance expert Martin Lewis have questioned the ‘global’ title of the new card, which offers travellers medical cover in fewer countries than the previous EHIC did.
Initial details of the GHIC were announced in late December 2020, when the UK Government also urged travellers to purchase travel insurance when venturing to the EU.
Commenting on the ongoing importance of travel insurance for UK travellers, Antony Martin, Managing Director at ROCK Insurance Group, said that since Covid, the company had seen insurance conversion increase: “Before the pandemic hit, 80 per cent of all trips taken from the UK were to Europe and, historically, 30 per cent of these customers didn’t take out travel insurance and instead relied entirely on the EHIC card to protect them.
“Since Covid, we have seen insurance conversion increase and, as the EHIC did not cover holiday cancellation or repatriation and neither will the GHIC card, it is essential for consumers to still take out travel insurance when travelling to European destinations and not to rely just on their GHIC.”