Buried away deep in the Christmas Eve Brexit deal was details on the provision of reciprocal health care for Brits visiting the EU and EU citizens in the UK.
Basically the deal says that the UK and European Union will continue to offer “benefits in kind” to a citizen from the other side if those benefits “become necessary on medical grounds during their stay”.
This means that Britons visiting EU 27 countries (but NOT Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) will be entitled to medical care on the same basis as local people.
So what does this mean for EHIC cards?
European Health Insurance cards, which have been around since 2004, have been the easiest way to prove this entitlement.
The UK government has said UK residents with a current EHIC card can use it until the date expires.
But the Brexit deal also contains mention of a new UK-specific health insurance card, which will be introduced at some point in the future.
This appears to have been already been given an official name: The Global Health Insurance cards or GHIC.
Those in Britain can apply online now for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) on the NHS portal previously used for EHIC applications.
The card is free so you do not need to use third-party sites, which may charge a fee.
Those with valid EHIC cards don't need to apply.
What about for Britons living in the EU?
Certain categories of people living in the EU (pensioners and students) can continue to use EHIC cards although they will likely have to apply for a new one.
The new one will be different from the old EHIC or new GHIC because they will show that the holder is covered by the “Citizens' Rights Agreement” (CRA).
UK health authorities have said previously that old EHIC cards were only valid until December 31st 2020 but it's not clear if there is now leeway given that old EHIC cards are now still valid until expiry date. Nevertheless pensioners living in the EU are advised to apply for a new one.
Under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement British pensioners who are S1 holders and students can continue to use their UK-issued EHIC card for basic health cover when travelling to another EU country as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Pensioners and students can also use the cards when returning to the UK but they are asked to apply for a new card
Those who can apply for a new EHIC card are:
- a UK State Pensioner or receiving some other exportable benefits, and you have a registered S1 form or E121
- a frontier worker (someone who works in one state and lives in another) and you've been one since before 1 January 2021, for as long as you continue to be a frontier worker in the host state, and you’re eligible for an S1 form or E106
- a worker posted to work in another EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland by your UK employer, and you've been there since before 1 January 2021, where the country has agreed to let the posting continue
- an eligible family member or dependant of one of the above
- a UK student studying in the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, and you've been there since before 1 January 2021
British students in the EU will be covered by their new EHIC until the end of the studies abroad and only in the country they are studying. They are also advised to have travel insurance.
Remember that an EHIC card does not cover all health costs in EU countries and is not an alternative to travel insurance. It does not cover mountain rescue or cruises, for example, and will not cover the cost of getting you home in an emergency.
“The EHIC covers medically necessary state-provided healthcare at a reduced cost or, in many cases, free of charge, until your planned return home,” the NHS website says.
In some countries you may be expected to pay your bill upfront and then claim a refund afterwards.
Other Britons living in the EU?
Anyone with a European Health Insurance card issued by their EU country of residence (which in France is known as a Carte europeenne assurance maladie or CEAM) can still use it for health cover when visiting other EU, EEA countries or Switzerland.
The UK government has told The Local that Britons living in the EU (who are not pensioners) before the end of the transition period that their locally issued EHIC card will be valid for any treatment they need while visiting the UK.
The UK government's site says: “If you live in the EU or move there before the end of 2020, your rights to access healthcare in your host country will stay the same from January 1st 2021 for as long as you remain resident.
This means you'll:
- continue to get state healthcare in your host country on the same basis as other residents
- still be entitled to a European EHIC for travel, including visits to the UK
People who already have a European card issued by their host country do not need to renew it.