GHIC v Travel Insurance: The Ins and Outs of Covering Medical Conditions on Holiday

There’s nothing unusual or rare about going on holiday with a long-term medical condition. An estimated 15 million adults in the UK live with chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis.

That’s more than a quarter of the adult population. Of course, many of those – probably the majority – go on holiday like everyone else!

GHIC v Travel Insurance

But there are a lot of myths floating around about travelling with pre-existing medical conditions, especially around treatment. You hear horror stories about people being refused medical care in foreign countries or being bankrupted by medical fees.

This can happen – if you don’t have the right cover. But there is an equal amount of misunderstanding about medical travel insurance, too. You’ll commonly hear how expensive or difficult it is to get travel insurance if you have a medical condition. This is unhelpful because it puts people off looking for the insurance cover they need, putting them at risk when they do go abroad.

Another source of confusion is the relationship between travel insurance and the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). The GHIC is the name of the scheme that replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in the UK after Brexit. It works on much the same basis. And unlike travel insurance, it is completely free.

But does it offer you adequate cover if you have a medical condition? Here’s what you need to know.

Guaranteed treatment in all circumstances

Holding a GHIC card guarantees access to state-funded healthcare in all circumstances, regardless of your medical history. So if, for example, you are on medication for a diagnosed heart disease and you suddenly get chest pains while holidaying abroad, you would get the same access to treatment as a citizen of that country on admission to the hospital.

Some people would argue that this is better than travel insurance because, with insurance, there is no automatic guarantee of cover for a medical condition. If you just buy a standard policy, you will not be covered. And that would mean you would have to pay for your treatment at private rates. If you end up having to spend time in the hospital, that could be very, very expensive.

With travel insurance, you must declare your medical condition when applying. And this is where some of the scare stories come from. Because many insurers will either automatically refuse to sell policies to people with certain conditions or else quote premiums so high as to make them unaffordable.

Despite the scare stories, however, this is not a universal experience. If you want travel insurance for a pre-existing medical condition, your best bet is to avoid mainstream providers and go straight to a specialist in medical travel cover. You’ll find you get a policy tailored to your needs without any bother, and at a fair price.

Limits of the GHIC

GHIC v Travel Insurance

But if the GHIC entitles you to treatment whether you have a medical condition or not – and is free to boot – is it ever worthwhile going to all this trouble to get travel insurance?

The GHIC is very useful to have, but it does have limitations. The most obvious one is that, like the EHIC card it replaces, it is only valid in EU member states and Switzerland (you might say the ‘global’ in its name is just a little bit optimistic). 

So that means if you are travelling anywhere other than Europe (plus any European countries that are yet to sign up to reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK, such as Norway, Iceland and non-EU countries in eastern Europe), you still need travel insurance to have any kind of medical cover. And if you have a long-standing medical condition, that really is an absolute must.

It’s also important to remember that while the GHIC is free to apply for, it does not automatically entitle you to free medical care in any of the countries that recognise it. Like the EHIC (which, by the way, is still used across the EU), the terms of the GHIC state that it entails holders receiving medical attention on the same terms as nationals of that country. 

So, in other words, it varies from country to country. In some places, you may well get free treatment for a medical episode relating to your condition. In others, you would still have to pay. It might not be as much as you would have to pay if you didn’t have a GHIC, but it’s a cost nonetheless. And one that travel insurance would cover.

Finally, one thing the GHIC definitely doesn’t cover is medical repatriation or being flown home under medical assistance. This might become necessary if you fall seriously ill, especially as the country you are in would not want to take on responsibility for providing long-term care to someone who is not a citizen. 

Medical repatriation is also very, very expensive. If you had a GHIC only, you would be expected to pay. Travel insurance, on the other hand, would cover the full cost.

GHIC v Travel Insurance: The Ins and Outs of Covering Medical Conditions on Holiday 1

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.