April 17 2014 Latest news:

Most people are unaware of the benefits of carrying a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when they go on holiday to Europe.

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A study has found that only about four people in 10 are up to speed with how EHICs work, with a large minority of us under the impression that the previous scheme remains in place.

Despite being axed more than five years ago, a third of people still think E111 forms will give them free or reduced-cost treatment within the European Economic Area (which includes the European Union), according to research by Moneysupermarket.

Others are under the impression that their passports or their NHS patient cards will provide them with medical cover should they need it.

However, since 2006 you have needed an EHIC to avoid potentially big bills should you fall ill or be injured while you are away.

The good news is that applying for an EHIC is free, but the onus is on you to make the application. They are not issued automatically.

“Medical treatment in the EU and the EEA varies from country to country, as well as being different from NHS-provided care in the UK,” said Bob Atkinson, travel insurance expert at Moneysupermarket.

“An EHIC is your pass to get free or reduced-cost medical treatment in any EU or EEA country. Holidaymakers will suffer unexpected financial pain if they don’t ensure they have the right documents and produce them when seeking treatment.

“Brits hitting Europe this summer without an EHIC could end up facing hefty bills if they need medical care while they’re on vacation.”

Even people who do have EHICs run the risk of being caught out. They are valid for only five years, so if you applied for your card in 2006 when they were first issued, you will need to renew it now. It is thought that up to six million EHICs could expire this year.

Mr Atkinson said applying for an EHIC was just the start, and holiday insurance was also worth its weight in gold.

“Like the E111 before it, the EHIC offers only relatively low-level access to medical treatment,” he said.

“Holidaymakers shouldn’t view it as a replacement for travel insurance, and travellers should also be aware that any non-essential care or treatment can cost extra.

“The cost for many serious accidents, extensive treatment and the need for air-ambulance repatriation will not be covered by the EHIC, and the costs for this can run into tens of thousands of pounds. As well as offering much more comprehensive medical treatment cover, travel insurance offers holidaymakers the peace of mind that they are covered for lost or stolen possessions, holiday cancellations, personal liability and a range of other costly possibilities.”

To apply for an EHIC, visit www.ehic.org.uk, call 0845 606 2030 or pop into a post office. An EHIC is valid across the EEA and Switzerland, but not in the Channel Islands.

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