The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK citizens to free or reduced-cost treatment in other EU countries. It doesn’t have the same benefits as travel insurance, but if you have one, many travel insurance policies will waive the excess payment on a claim. In the event of a Brexit, such agreements would have to be renegotiated and there is no guarantee of the same result.
The effect on the EHIC scheme of the UK leaving the European Union would be dependent on the UK’s circumstances after it pulled out. As such, there are a number of possibilities to consider.
First of all, it’s important to understand that European Health Insurance Cards work within the European Economic Area (or ‘EEA’), not just the EU itself. The EEA is closely related to the EU but is also distinct from it. It was created in 1994 in order to allow certain non-EU states to participate in the European Common Market. If the UK pulls out of the EU but remains part of the EEA, the use of European Health Insurance Cards may not be affected in the long term, as it isn’t with countries that are outside of the EU but are part of the EEA, such as Iceland and Norway. However, this would depend on the willingness of the European Union and its member states to acknowledge the continued validity of EHICs. This is not guaranteed, especially if the UK causes political turbulence and resentment when it leaves the EU.
There is also a possibility that the UK will leave the EEA when it leaves the EU. One of the main arguments Eurosceptics make against the EU is that it makes it harder for the UK to control its borders and level of immigration. The EEA’s rules include provisions for freedom of movement that contribute to this perceived problem. As such, if the UK decides to leave the EU, it may well leave the EEA as well. In this case, EHICs would almost certainly be rendered invalid, as the UK would no longer be part of the ‘club’ of countries on which they are dependent.
Finally, the UK could leave the EU and the EEA but negotiate specific agreements with individual EU countries. In this case, EHICs may still be valid in the countries where the UK successfully negotiates agreements, provided there is a particular provision made for their use in each of those countries.
Leaving the EU would be a gamble, and there is no way to be 100% certain of the consequences. However, we can conclude that (as things stand at present) it is very likely that EHICs would no longer be valid if the UK exited the EU. However, there is no need to worry yet. The UK may still choose to remain within the EU. Even if it does not, there is plenty of time for the nation to find a way to incorporate EHICs into a future outside the EU.