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INSURANCE - EHIC CARD COVERS A LOT, BUT NOT ALL

Commercial insurance still important when abroad

SINCE their entry into the EU, Slovaks have been entitled to apply for the European Health Insurance Card. Yet both public and commercial health insurers warn that it is still important to carry commercial travel insurance when travelling to other EU countries.

A mix of public and commercial insurance pays off when travelling.
photo: Sme - Pavol Funtál

SINCE their entry into the EU, Slovaks have been entitled to apply for the European Health Insurance Card. Yet both public and commercial health insurers warn that it is still important to carry commercial travel insurance when travelling to other EU countries.

According to Petra Balážová, the spokesperson for Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťovňa (General Health Insurance), holders of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are entitled to free or reduced-cost medical treatment if they become ill or injured while in a European Union member country, the European Economic Area, or Switzerland. The EHIC is therefore useful for short-term trips such as holidays, business trips, internships, and foreign studies.

The EHIC is normally valid for three to five years, and gives the holder access to state-provided medical treatment. An EHIC holder is treated on the same basis as a publicly insured citizen of the country they are visiting.

"Treatment covered by the EHIC doesn't have a financial cap and it also includes treatment for chronic diseases and pre-existing diseases, which are usually excluded from commercial travel insurance policies. An EHIC holder is entitled to 'necessary treatment' instead of only the 'urgent treatment' defined in commercial travel insurance policies. 'Necessary treatment' includes a wider range of procedures than 'urgent treatment' does," Balážová said.

On the other hand, an EHIC holder can only make use of state health care providers, and the EHIC only covers treatment that is covered by the public health insurance system. An EHIC holder can also be asked to contribute to the cost of his care. The co-payment is the same as what domestic policyholders would pay. An EHIC holder is not entitled to be reimbursed for this payment.

On the other hand, commercial travel insurance policies allow the holder to make use of private health care providers, which is particularly useful when visiting seaside resorts. Commercial insurance covers all the costs of treatment, including co-payments, although there is always a certain limit (about €30,000 to €40,000).

Lucia Muthová, the spokeswoman for Allianz-Slovenská Poisťovňa (Slovak Insurance), said that commercial travel insurance was still important when travelling abroad in the EU. "Some public health care providers and hospitals might not have the equipment needed to treat a patient adequately. Clients should also bear in mind that the EHIC does not cover the cost of repatriation to Slovakia," Muthová said.

Additionally, assistance services are only covered by commercial insurance. "Clients appreciate them mainly when they are in serious condition and are unable to communicate with the doctors because of the language barrier," Muthová explained.

"Our opinion is that a combination of both insurances is the best," Balážová said.

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