For those living in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, the EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card) is like taking a piece of your home country’s healthcare system away with you. It works alongside, but separately from, health insurance cover, offering you access to state organised health care across the region. It’s free to apply for and all citizens of the EEA are eligible. You can apply for it through your state healthcare organisation or government department; for example, in the UK it is accessed through the NHS, and you’re covered as soon as your application is received – it doesn’t matter if the card doesn’t arrive in time for you to take it away with you, as you’ll be able to access the necessary details should they become necessary during your trip.
You can apply for the European Health Insurance Card while accessing healthare in Austria by completing a simple form consisting of details such as your name and National Insurance number. It’s easy to do and entirely free, so there’s really no good reason not to. Alhough the EHIC covers you as soon as you apply, it is easiest and most efficient to use when you are able to carry the physical card with you. There can be a slight delay in the receipt of it during the peak holiday season, so it’s worth applying now if you’re going to be holidaying in the next couple of months.
So how does it help you in Austria? The healthcare system in Austria is two tiered, so just about everyone is covered by universal, state run healthcare, which is paid for in a similar way to National Insurance in the UK. People can also choose to top this up with private health insurance, offering them access to private doctors and greater flexibility in their care. This can get confusing, so to get full usage of your EHIC card, it’s important to clarify before undergoing treatment that the practitioner does operate under the state system as private healthcare costs are not related to the cover of the EHIC.
Despite the relative availability of good healthcare in Austria, compared to some other EEA countries, it’s still very sensible to take an EHIC card with you. Visitors to Austria range from culture buffs absorbing the beauty of Vienna, to thrill seekers hitting the ski slopes. For those on a more adventurous track, conventional health insurance is very easy to void, and there is a moderate risk of injury. The EHIC offers extra security for such circumstances. Even if the worst should happen, the main purpose of the EHIC is to provide enough health cover to help you complete the planned duration of your trip. This means that you can continue your holiday or business trip without fear that you’ll return home to an unexpectedly hefty bill!
Although everyone hopes they won’t need to consider their health cover whilst they’re away, it’s reassuring to know that it’s there.