Many U.S. citizens are under the impression that health care in Europe is ‘free’ and they question whether travel insurance is necessary for Europe.
According to the Department of Health UK, hospital treatment through the National Health Service (NHS) “is free only to people who live on a lawful and properly settled basis (‘ordinarily resident’) in the United Kingdom (UK).”
With some exceptions, if you do not normally live in Europe, you will have to pay for any medical treatment you receive regardless of whether you are a citizen or have lived or worked in the UK in the past.
The following are the exceptions:
Emergency treatment given inside an Accident and Emergency department or NHS emergency walk-in center. Treatment given after admission into a hospital is not free.
Treatment for certain infections diseases (including STDs, but excluding HIV/AIDS) when it is the first diagnosis and connected to counseling sessions.
Compulsory psychiatric treatment
Family planning services
This means that any treatment beyond the initial emergency care and non-emergency treatment will incur a charge. For example, if your child starts running a fever and you take the child to a doctor, you’ll need to pay for that medical treatment out of pocket. After all, a fever – while concerning to you as a parent – is not a qualified medical emergency.
Other than the above, overseas visitors are charged for their hospital treatment unless they are otherwise entitled to NHS hospital treatment free of charge. The list of these people includes students living in the UK less than 6 months, refugees and asylum seekers, diplomatic staff working in embassies … and the list goes on. In short, the casual traveler from the U.S. is not included.
It’s important to recognize the following three things when you’re deciding whether or not to get travel insurance for a trip to Europe:
Even if your emergency medical care is covered, you will still have to pay for prescription charges and other charges levied by the medical facility.
Travel medical coverage is typically really cheap – it’s simply not worth NOT having it.
Ultimately, it’s the traveler’s decision whether or not to take the risk and travel without travel insurance, but given the fact that the largest portion of any full-featured travel insurance plan is the cost of insuring trip cancellation and interruption, it really makes no sense not to have travel medical coverage – even when you travel to Europe.