Gard Alert: The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Reduce medical costs and associated loss records by making the EHIC part of European seafarers’ compulsory documentation when signing on to a vessel.
The EHIC allows anyone who is resident in a country of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland to receive medical treatment in another member country free of charge or at a reduced rate. However, experience shows that many seafarers are still not in possession of a valid EHIC when admitted to a hospital in Europe.
We have previously outlined the advantages of ensuring that European seafarers carry an EHIC when on board their vessels, see our Gard Alert of July 2011, and take this opportunity to remind Gard’s Members and clients of the EHIC scheme’s benefits and potential cost savings. We also emphasise the importance of instructing seafarers eligible for an EHIC to obtain the card and carry it as part of their compulsory personal documentation, like their passport and seaman’s book, when signing on to a vessel. It could even be worth considering making it a term of their contract of employment that a seafarer who is entitled to an EHIC is also obliged under his/her contract to carry one.
What is the EHIC?
A free card that entitles European seafarers access to emergency state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any EEA country or Switzerland, under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people covered by the health insurance scheme of that country.
Who can benefit from the card?
Anyone who is insured by or covered by a statutory social security system of an EEA country or Switzerland.
How does the scheme work?
The EHIC evidences that the seafarer is part of a health insurance scheme administered by another EEA country or Switzerland and makes it easy for a seafarer to obtain medical care in one of these countries without delay. When the card is presented on admission to a state hospital, it ensures that payment for medical treatment is settled directly between the two countries involved without the involvement of an insurance company, that is, between the country in which treatment is received and the patient’s country of residence.
How does the EHIC scheme fit in with medical coverage under the P&I insurance?
Costs not recoverable under the seafarer’s national social security will be considered covered by P&I in accordance with the terms of the seafarer’s contract of employment and any applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
For European seafarers who are not members of a national social security system, costs of medical treatment will be considered covered under the P&I policy in accordance with the terms of the seafarer’s contract of employment and any applicable CBA. However, as P&I insurance is secondary to other insurance schemes, including national social security schemes (ref. the Club’s Rule 71 for ships and Club’s Rule 38 for mobile offshore units), invoices should still be sent to the seafarer’s local social security office for reimbursement.
How to obtain a card?
The card is personal and each seafarer can obtain a card by contacting the relevant health authorities in his/her country of residence. The European Commission’s website contains a useful country by country guide on how to access healthcare in the various member countries. Beware of unofficial websites, which may charge if applications are made through them.
It is worth noting that the validity period of an EHIC varies from one country to another and that the cards are not re-issued automatically when they expire.
Easier than ever with the EHIC App
The European Commission has also developed an App that that is available from:
- App Store
- Google Play
- Windows Phone Store
The App includes general information about the card, provides guidance on how to use the card, emergency phone numbers, covered treatments and costs, how to claim reimbursement and who to contact in case you have lost your card. It is available in 25 languages with easy option to switch from one language to another.
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