Health: Take Cover; Most of Us Grab Any Old Insurance Policy before Heading off on Our Hols. but Doing a Little Bit of Homework Could Leave You with Lots More Cash to Spend on Straw Donkeys and the Local Plonk - and Ensure You Don't End Up Miles from Home with Massive Medical Bills
Byline: Nathalie Gibbins
It's the last thing you want to think about before jetting off on your summer holiday, but getting seriously ill or injured can be a terrifying experience. Don't think that foreign countries provide the same service as the UK's good old NHS - without the necessary funds for medical treatment you could be left for dead, even in civilised countries like the USA. Despite this, only one in four of us bother getting travel insurance. But without it, you're playing Russian roulette with your life. And it doesn't have to cost a fortune.
Did you know you can get free medical treatment in Europe?
You can pick up an E111 form from any main post office and it provides free or reduced-cost emergency medical treatment in countries within the European Economic Area (EEA), made up of the 15 member states of the European Community (there's a list on the form). The E111 only allows for state- provided treatment (not private medical care), it doesn't cover getting you home in the event of illness or death, emergency flights, accommodation or travel expenses and is only suitable for emergencies. For example, if you break your arm, the E111 will cover or partially cover the cost of fixing it but not removing the plaster later on. Treatment covered by the E111 isn't always free of charge - in France you have to pay a quarter of hospital treatment costs plus a pounds 7 charge each day. It may not cover all the things you'd expect on the NHS although in some countries the E111 does include dental treatment and reduced-cost prescriptions. The Department of Health recommends checking what your holiday destination provides on the E111 and then making travel insurance arrangements around that. Many insurance companies won't charge excesses for medical claims if you've used your E111 for treatment. Always keep a photocopy of the E111 with the original as some countries require both.
What if you're travelling outside the EEA?
The UK also has reciprocal medical agreements with over 40 countries outside the EEA (see the booklet Health Advice For Travellers from post offices) for the provision of urgently needed medical treatment free or at reduced cost. Just like the E111, you'll be treated on the same terms as residents of the country and it doesn't cover private treatment or repatriation, so you may want to rely on your travel insurance to get home.
Paying by plastic?
It's worth checking out what insurance your credit cards offer. Most provide a basic level of cover for accidents while travelling and pay out a lump sum (pounds 50,000-pounds 250,000) for death or serious injury so long as you book your holiday on your card. Other cards, such as Abbey National's, recover costs for delayed flights and lost luggage. More exclusive credit cards also include full or partial family travel insurance, although these usually incur a fee. Lloyds TSB offers basic travel insurance on its Select, Gold and Platinum cards (pounds 4-pounds 12 a month) and American Express includes full family insurance on its Platinum card (not cheap at pounds 245 a year).
And remember. …