Hard Brexit would cost Ehic cards

doctor with stethoscope
Medical care for visitors in Europe could become expensive if Ehics cards are lost

British minister admits government has no idea of the consequences of failure to get EU deal

Brexit Minister David Davis has admitted in the Commons the British government has made no assessment of the economic impact of a hard Brexit – and said travellers’ Ehics cards would ‘probably’ be one of the benefits lost.

Mr Davis told the Commons Exiting the European Union Committee chairman, Hilary Benn, it would be “rather otiose” to forecast the consequences of leaving without first working out the upsides – such as opening up 60% of UK trade.

But he admitted a hard Brexit that left the UK operating on World Trade Organisation terms would mean the loss of Ehic health insurance cards for travellers, travel difficulties with the loss of the EU-US Open Skies deal on flights, the loss of EU passporting rights for financial sector firms, and some farmers facing a 30-40% higher tariffs on exports.

Mr Benn asked Mr Davis if he could confirm that UK citizens would no longer have access to the EHIC health card and Mr Davis replied: "I think that's probably right. I haven't looked at that one."

The Ehics card (former E111) gives travellers state-provided medical help for any urgent condition or injury in EU countries as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein – as part of the European Economic Area. It has the advantage of covering pre-existing conditions.

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A hard Brexit, leaving the UK outside the EEA, and with no access to Ehic cards, could mean pensioners with existing health problems visiting from the UK would face expensive health insurance bills although the UK already has reciprocal medical deals with countries such as Australia that give visitors free urgent treatment and could similarly agree deals with EU countries.

The card would remain valid until the UK withdrawal date.

Earlier this year Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Commons Health Select Committee he checked possible insurance costs for a week in France for someone with diabetes and a history of mild depression and it “came out between £800 and £2,500”.

Prof McKee added for a 70-year-old with common conditions "it will mean effectively that they will not be able to travel - or at least they can travel but they would take a risk of something goes wrong."

Travel insurance is a must for most travellers, even with the Ehic, as private healthcare and flights home are not covered.

British travel agents want the government to act to protect travellers and Alan Wardle, of ABTA, said: "ABTA disagrees with David Davis that UK citizens will have to lose the EHIC health treatment card. Brexit shouldn't have to mean that we lose reciprocal medical care rights with other European countries: the EHIC card is currently valid in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU.

"It is an important consumer protection for British citizens, used over 200,000 times last year, and the government should seek to protect it in the upcoming negotiations. Maintaining consumer confidence on issues like this will be important over the next couple of years."

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