Brexit is set to take place on March 29th 2019 and, with negotiations continuing, it is not possible to say with any degree of certainty how things might change for Britain and its residents after leaving the European Union.

It is also unclear at this stage what impact Brexit will have on how British residents access and pay for healthcare within the EU, and whether the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will still be valid for British citizens.

In this article we’ll discuss the potential outcomes for Britons entitlement to European healthcare post Brexit, and what to do if you’re planning to travel before or after the end of March 2019.

What is the European Health Insurance Card?

For the past 12 years the European Health Insurance Card, known more commonly as EHIC, has provided British residents with the right to access state healthcare from countries within the European single market. This includes EU countries, EEA member countries (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland.

This means that medically necessary treatment for pre-existing conditions, routine maternity care and emergencies can be sought for a reduced fee (or for free) depending on certain circumstances.

Who is eligible?

Residents in the UK, whether working or not, are entitled to a free EHIC.

Those under the age of 16 require a parent or guardian to apply for an EHIC on their behalf.

Some people who are residents abroad are still eligible for EHIC under certain circumstances. This includes:

  • those receiving a UK state pension;
  • workers, and their family members, who are posted abroad by their UK employer;
  • and UK students going abroad to study.

All of the above are entitled to EHIC but may need to apply via the Overseas Healthcare Team.

In order to obtain a valid EHIC you will need to apply for one. There is no fee to apply for an EHIC if you’re doing so yourself, although there are some companies that can apply on your behalf who will charge a fee to do so.

How will EHIC work after Brexit?

At this point in the Brexit negotiations very few facts are known about how EHIC will function for Britons post-March 29th.

The UK government and EU have agreed in principle that all EU law will still be applicable during the transition period or period of implementation after Brexit. This means that EHIC should technically still be valid up until 31st December 2020. However, the transition period will only apply if the withdrawal agreement is validated by both the UK and EU.

It has previously been reported that UK nationals living in the EU will still be able to use EHIC to access healthcare, but until a definite deal is reached it is difficult for a concrete answer to be provided.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland all benefit from the current EHIC healthcare system even though they do not form part of the EU. Therefore it is reasonable to suggest that Britain could come to a similar agreement.

If Brexit results in the current EHIC system not being available to Brits (or even being replaced with another entirely different scheme), British residents could face higher travel insurance premiums in order to cover the cost of claims.

What to do if you’re travelling soon

The current advice is to continue using your EHIC as you would normally until any further notifications are given.

If you are due to travel to a country within the EEA you should make sure that your EHIC is in date or apply for a renewal.

Whether you’re travelling before or after the proposed exit date next March, it’s better to be prepared. As soon as you book to travel abroad you should also book travel insurance. Doing so means that you are covered for any eventualities such as a trip cancellation. It is important to remember that EHIC does not offer the same cover as travel insurance.

You can read the guidelines to accessing healthcare in the various EEA countries via the NHS website.