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Analysis

Losing EHIC leaves the vulnerable more vulnerable abroad

by Molly Scott Cato | 05.07.2018

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS. It is a phenomenal achievement; our healthcare system is one of the best in the world. But our rights to free healthcare at the point of delivery are under threat, not just because of the funding crisis in the NHS.

An estimated 27 million of us carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). For most people this means peace of mind when travelling in Europe, that you’ll have the same access to healthcare as locals if you fall unexpectedly ill or suffer an accident. But for the 29,000 people in the UK who have kidney failure and need life-saving dialysis, Brexit could mean the difference between being able to afford a trip to Europe or not.

Those with chronic conditions depend on the card most, since finding cover for their conditions using private insurance is prohibitively expensive. If Britain is unable to remain in the EHIC system post-Brexit then travel for people on dialysis in the UK could become virtually impossible. The cost of paying privately for dialysis sessions in the EU is up to £880 a week and is not available on standard travel insurance.

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So will we be able to keep our EHICs? The government claims that EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, will be able to continue to use their cards after Brexit. But actually, all that’s been agreed so far is that this will be the case if you happen to be in an EU country on the day the UK leaves the bloc (see par. 29 of the EU-UK joint report from December). Beyond this all the government has promised is that it will “seek an ongoing arrangement akin to the EHIC scheme”.

The House of Lords has already rung the alarm bells in a report warning not to take “UK-EU reciprocal healthcare for granted”. Michael Jay, the chairman of the EU home affairs sub-committee, added: “These arrangements have brought the greatest benefit to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. We do not wish to see this progress reversed in the future.”

Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said people are anxious. She’s called for a “clear commitment from the government to protect kidney patients post-Brexit because the needs of people with long-term conditions will continue to cross borders.”

Despite government’s insistence that it wants “all current and future UK nationals to continue to benefit from EHIC rights”, a hard Brexit and Theresa May’s red lines make it unlikely. The EHIC system only applies to EU and EFTA members, who follow all the rules of the single market, including freedom of movement.

Far from entering Brexiters’ fantasyland of “global Britain”, those with chronic health conditions are likely to find themselves trapped within the confines of the UK after Brexit.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Losing EHIC leaves the vulnerable more vulnerable abroad”

  • For those who say private travel insurance would be an alternative to the EHIC card, just browse through a few insurance policy documents. I have one with 86 pages mainly in small print. It is mainly just a list of optouts and get outs for the insurance company. Have you a pre-existing health condition etc. There are few of us who can truthfully say we have a completly clean bill of health.
    Of course declaring pre-existing medical conditions to an insurance company, does not automatically exclude cover, but it makes it a damned sight more expensive.

    The EHIC card is a superb innovation and peace of mind for travellers, which largely avoids the problem of insurance company get outs. For those who say we will be free on Brexit day, the loss of the Brexit card is a example proving the exact opposite.

  • Having married a Polish lady 6 years ago and being now eighty years old, EHIC has allowed me to live much of my time in Poland, without worrying about my health. With the onset of Brexit I enquired about basic insurance and found it would cost me nearly 3/4 of my pension. If I lose my EHIC in Brexit my life here and possibly my marriage will be in danger. I fear the present Tory government will not give cover to my wife if we came to Britain. I bet I am not the only one in this position.

  • This seems to me to be a classic example of a topic which needs a petition to keep it in the minds of our negotiators. I doubt if anyone realized this consequence of leaving the EU, even those who claim to know exactly what Brexit means. Brexit…the gift which keeps on giving.