For Britons travelling on the continent, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – which affords travellers state provided necessary medical treatment in the host country – has long been a default item to take on holiday.
They cover temporary stays in European Economic Area (EEA) countries, plus Switzerland, and over 27 million people have one, according to the Department of Health.
Patients are effectively treated as a resident of the country in question, either at a reduced cost or for free by the state healthcare system, with the home nation picking up the tab.
However, the future of this benefit has been thrown into doubt by the vote to leave the European Union.
Nothing will happen to the EHIC when Article 50 is triggered, as it merely starts the process of leaving the European Union.
One of the major factors in deciding whether the EHIC will remain available to British citizens is whether there is a separation from the EEA, as the card is not an EU initiative.
There are countries, such as Norway and Iceland, who are EEA members but not EU members and accept the EHIC. The UK could feasibly adopt this model.
However, Gemma Sonfield, head of travel insurance at comparison website comparethemarket.com, said: “One of the Leave campaign’s major arguments centred on immigration and border control. As the EEA allows for the free movement of people around the EU’s 28 member states, it is also feasible that Brexit will sever ties with the EEA as well, in which case the EHIC would likely cease to exist.”
Ms Sonfield highlighted Switzerland as an exception that is neither an EU or EEA member, but accepts the EHIC as part of the single market.
“There has been speculation as to whether the UK could follow the Swiss model,” she said.
The knock on effect to insurance costs could be significant in the event that the EHIC becomes unavailable for British citizens. Insurers would have to take into consideration that they would be footing the bill for all medical treatment, rather than having a proportion dealt with through the EHIC system.
Ms Sonfield added: “The card provides such good health protection that some insurers now insist you have to have an EHIC to take out a policy, and many will even waive your excess if you do have one.”
A Government spokesman said: “The rights and entitlements that will apply following the UK’s exit are subject to the wider negotiation on our future relationship with the EU.
“At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of the United Kingdom, including those travelling to and living in EU countries.”