RSS Feed

Related Articles

Related Categories

Relying on an EHIC to cover your winter holiday mishaps could leave you with a mountain of medical bills

10th January 2018 Print

Thousands of British skiers and snowboarders are heading to Europe this winter to get their annual fix of downhill thrills. Unfortunately, many will be travelling under the misapprehension that having a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will give them all the medical cover they need.

Research from GoCompare Travel has found that 69% of UK holidaymakers wrongly expect an EHIC to provide free emergency medical treatment in Europe and 7% expect it to pay for an air ambulance to fly them back to the UK. 27% of Brits who had travelled abroad admitted they didn’t always have travel insurance cover and 6% said they never did. The worrying fact is that anyone relying on an EHIC to pick up their medical costs for a skiing or snowboarding accident could be left battered and bruised and with a very large bill to boot.

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), in 2016 UK insurers paid out £1m a day to travel insurance policyholders with claims for medical costs totaling £199m. Around 480,000 travelers made claims for medical expenses with the average payout being around £1,300, but some accidents can cost a lot more. The following are real-life examples of winter sports medical claims

Accident 1 - A man was accidentally hit by a snowboard whilst skiing in France and suffered serious bruising. He was evacuated off the mountain by helicopter running up a bill of £5,425.

Accident 2 – A woman had a nasty fall while skiing in Austria, tearing her anterior and interior cruciate ligaments and needing surgery to repair them. Her bill for treatment was £9,439.

Accident 3 – A man suffered a spinal injury in a fall whilst skiing in France. He was airlifted off the mountain to the resort clinic and later transferred to a bigger hospital. The total bill was £8,978.

An EHIC is extremely useful and can save you money on emergency medical expenses, but its benefits are not as comprehensive as many people think.

The EHIC facts – The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free to most UK residents. However, residents of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not eligible for EHICs. Parents and guardians can apply for EHICs for those aged under 16 and each member of a travel party must have their own EHIC.

An EHIC entitles the bearer to the same level of state medical care provided to eligible nationals of the EEA country they’re in. This means that the treatment may be provided for free, or at a reduced cost, in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries including Switzerland. The EEA includes all 27 members of the European Union (EU) plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EHIC is not accepted in Turkey as it is not a member of the EU or the EEA.

However, the provision of state care varies from country to country and does not mean you should expect to be treated as you would if you visited your NHS doctor or hospital. Few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment as you’d expect from the NHS. For example, in France a patient may be expected to pay for a consultation with a doctor but will have up to 70% of the cost reimbursed later. The patient may also be expected to contribute to the cost of staying in a hospital overnight.

There are also no guarantees that you will be taken to a state hospital for emergency treatment, and many of the smaller hospitals and clinics found in ski resorts are private. If you end up at a private clinic or hospital your EHIC may not be accepted at all.

Mountain rescue and medical repatriation

If you’re unfortunate enough to need mountain rescue or medical repatriation, the EHIC provides no cover at all. An EHIC does not cover the cost of being brought down a mountain by a mountain rescue team or helicopter and it doesn’t cover the cost of being flown home under medical supervision from any destination. The UK Government generally does not pay for British holidaymakers to be flown home but may do so if there are very unusual circumstances, such as terrorism.

Georgie Frost, Head of Consumer Affairs at GoCompare, commented: “Many British holidaymakers still don’t understand what benefits an EHIC can and can’t provide. There’s no doubt it’s a ‘must have’ for any holiday in Europe, but it’s no substitute for having travel insurance with a good level of medical expenses cover and appropriate winter sports protection included.

“Having an EHIC can help you access free or, more likely, discounted emergency medical services whilst in Europe, but it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to pay anything, and it certainly won’t be of any help if a serious accident leaves you needing mountain rescue or medical repatriation to the UK. Being flown home under medical supervision can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

“Skiers and snowboarders, and even those who are just going along for the trip, should always arrange suitable travel insurance to ensure they’re protected for any medical emergency. Other advantages of having proper winter sports cover includes protection against losing your skis, your lift pass and other equipment and some even offer compensation if there’s no snow in your resort.

“Single trip travel insurance for two skiers for a week in France, including £15m of medical expenses cover, starts from just £13.49, so an EHIC should complement your travel insurance cover rather than replace it.”

For more information on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), visit GoCompare’s guide at:

And for more information on winter sports insurance, visit: