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UK aiming to keep European health cover if there's a no-deal Brexit – but EHICs may not work on exit day

UK aiming to keep European health cover if there's a no-deal Brexit – but EHICs may not work on exit day

The UK Government has proposed to EU member states that healthcare cover similar to that provided by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) should continue until the end of 2020, even if we leave the European Union with no deal – but says protections may not be in place on the day we leave.

Update 21 March: This story has been updated as the UK Government has clarified that while it wants to continue "existing healthcare arrangements" even if there's a no-deal Brexit, this may not be in the form of an EHIC.

In a written statement to Parliament, Health Minister Stephen Hammond said the UK Government has proposed that the "reciprocal healthcare rights", should remain until the end of 2020 if a no-deal Brexit occurs, and if if there's a deal the rights "will" remain until at least the end of 2020.

But Hammond adds that while steps have been taken to ensure this does occur, the EHIC "may no longer be valid" on exit day in a no-deal scenario.

The free EHIC entitles the holder to free or discounted medical treatment at state-run hospitals and GPs in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. 

For more on Brexit and what it will mean for the UK, see our 25 Brexit need-to-knows.

I'm travelling after 29 March – what should I do?

We always say get insurance as soon as you book a holiday, and that's even more important now if you're going to an EU member country, given that you may not be covered by your EHIC.

Even if the EHIC cover is extended, while it gives valuable protection, it should never be seen as a substitute for travel insurance.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has said that travel insurance policies will cover emergency medical treatment costs as standard, that could have been reclaimed through the EHIC.

But it warns there are a small number of policies that state they will only provide cover if you have and use an EHIC. Therefore, you need to check the terms and conditions of your policy, and if worried contact your travel insurer to check you will be covered if the EHIC is unable to be extended in the event of a no deal.

See our Cheap Travel InsuranceTravel Insurance For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions and Over-65s' Travel Insurance.

It's also worth checking if you'll be covered for Brexit-related disruption. Back in January, we revealed that customers with policies from at least seven major firms may not be covered for hotel, car hire and other costs if they have to cancel their trip because of Brexit-related flight disruption. It's worth checking what level of cover a policy offers before you book.

What does the Government say?

The Government says that some EU member states, such as Spain, have already made public commitments that they will enable resident UK nationals and visitors to access healthcare in the same way they do now.

It also says that the UK Government has committed to fund healthcare for UK nationals (and others for whom the UK is responsible) who have applied for, or are undergoing, treatments in the EU prior to and on exit day, regardless of the circumstances, for up to one year.

And those who have their healthcare funded by the UK under current EU arrangements and are resident in EU member states on exit day can use NHS services in England without charge when on a temporary visit to England.

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