If you are planning a holiday in a country in the European Union (EU) you may be wondering whether your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will still be valid after Brexit.
The EHIC currently entitles you to state-provided medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident in any EU country, or in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, where the scheme also applies.
The UK has issued 27 million EHIC cards .
They cover pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care as well as emergency care. Individuals with chronic illnesses, for example those who require daily dialysis, can travel knowing they will receive treatment on the same terms as the citizens of the country they are visiting.
So what will happen after Brexit? It depends on whether the UK leaves with or without a deal.
What would happen if there was no deal?
If the UK leaves with no deal, you cannot necessarily rely on your EHIC being valid.
The UK government issued detailed country by country advice on health care when travelling abroad.
If there is no deal, the advice for those travelling is to buy travel insurance to cover health care “just as you would if visiting a non-EU country”.
The government said it was “seeking agreements with countries on health care arrangements for UK nationals”.
The Spanish and Belgian governments have said UK tourists will be entitled to medical care, as long as the UK agrees to do the same for their citizens. And the Portuguese no-deal law guarantees healthcare to UK tourists who show a valid passport, until the end of 2020.
The UK has also reached an agreement with Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway, meaning pensioners and posted workers can carry on accessing healthcare as they do now.
UK citizens visiting or living in Ireland will be able to access healthcare on the same basis as they can now, whether there is a deal or not, and vice versa.
What would happen if there was a deal?
The only deal agreed with the EU so far – the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May’s government – set out a transition period (once the UK had left) to allow more time for negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.
This period was due to last until 31 December 2020 and during this time all EU law would continue to apply in the UK. That would mean people would have the same rights and guarantees as before – including the use of EHIC cards.
But the deal was rejected by the UK Parliament three times, Mrs May resigned and her successor Boris Johnson says he wants a new deal with the EU.
What would happen in the longer term?
What happens to the EHIC in the future will be decided as part of the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.
In the Brexit White Paper published on 12 July 2018, the UK government said it wanted “UK and EU nationals to continue to be able to use the EHIC to receive health care should they need it while on holiday”.
Even if the UK leaves with no deal, the government would still have to negotiate with the EU if it wants to make sure the EHIC could be used by UK citizens in the future.
Healthcare deals with non-EU countries
The UK has reciprocal health insurance deals with a few non-EU countries, including Australia and New Zealand, under which visitors can receive urgent treatment at a reduced cost or for free. In other words, visitors are treated as if they are resident in the country in question, but unlike EHIC, the agreements do not cover pre-existing conditions.
These reciprocal deals will be unaffected by Brexit or future UK-EU negotiations.