The cost of healthcare abroad can be prohibitively expensive if you have not made prior arrangements. The ISCC therefore strongly recommends that you ensure that arrangements are in place to cover medical expenses, in the event that you fall ill abroad. If you are living with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, it is important to get into the habit of leaving enough time to make the necessary arrangements prior to travel. These arrangements will depend on your destination and the length of your stay. The most common ways to make such a provision are:
- in the UK the NHS will provide healthcare to Irish citizens
- within the European Union, European Economic Area, and Switzerland, the European Health Insurance Card will provide free or subsidised healthcare (you must apply for this card in advance)
- worldwide - a private health insurance policy may cover health expenses (check your policy carefully for details of what is covered and that you are not in a waiting period for a pre-existing condition)
- worldwide - a travel insurance policy that will cover pre-existing conditions (do not assume that all travel insurance policies will cover pre-existing conditions, check before purchasing)
- a combination of the above
Irish residents are entitled to healthcare from the NHS whilst on a temporary visit to Great Britain or Northern Ireland. You just need to provide some evidence that you are ordinarily resident in Ireland e.g. passport, driving licence. Citizens of the UK are equally entitled to free healthcare when in Ireland. This does not mean that you should not purchase travel insurance, but you will have the comfort of knowing that you will receive emergency treatment for your IBD should you need it, and do not necessarily need a policy that covers pre-existing conditions.
For travel within the European Union, European Economic Area, or Switzerland, you should apply for the European Health Insurance Card. You can apply for this card online on www.hse.ie or at your local health clinic. The EHIC will entitle you to free or subsidised healthcare in those countries should you require it. Make sure to apply in advance of your trip as it can take two weeks to receive the card from date of application. This does not mean that you should not purchase travel insurance, but you will have the comfort of knowing that you will receive emergency treatment for your IBD should you need it, and do not necessarily need a policy that covers pre-existing conditions. EHIC does not replace travel insurance. It only covers necessary healthcare.
There is no provision for Irish citizens to receive free or subsidised treatment in any country outside the jurisdictions covered by the EHIC above. For travel to countries outside this area (including popular destinations such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), the most straightforward way to have cover for pre-existing conditions is to have a health insurance policy that covers medical expenses abroad. If you have private medical insurance you should check what cover is available should you fall ill abroad, and always make sure you have the necessary proof of insurance with you when you travel should you need it. Health insurance policies will not normally cover pre-existing conditions until the policy has been in effect for five years so it is not as simple as just buying a health insurance policy before your trip.
If you do not have health insurance, you may need to purchase a travel insurance policy that covers pre-existing conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Otherwise you will have to pay for treatment yourself if you fall ill with your Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis and need treatment. Not all companies will cover pre-existing conditions so you will have to shop around. For those companies that do provide cover for pre-existing conditions it usual that they will require you to declare your condition in advance and/or go through a medical screening process and underwriting. It is therefore essential that you do not leave this to the last minute. We do not provide a list of insurers on our website but contact us if you are having difficulty getting cover as we may be able to give you some guidance.
A word of caution: It can be very quick and easy to purchase travel insurance online and many of us may make the mistake of leaving this until the last minute. Apart from the obvious hurdle of getting cover for a pre-existing condition there can be limitations and exclusions to travel insurance policies that you may not have expected. You should ensure that you read in detail the terms and conditions attached to any policy you intend to purchase and get into the habit of planning for travel insurance (if you need it) well in advance of your trip. Not all travel insurance policies cover medical expenses related to pre-existing conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, so it is important to check before you purchase any policy that it will cover medical expenses related to these conditions. Some policies will only provide cover if you already have a private health insurance policy in place, and will only pay any excess over and above what will be paid by the health insurance policy first. Others will require you to declare that you have Crohn's or colitis when purchasing the policy, which may or may not involve a medical screening by telephone.
Remember that travel insurance also covers things such as cancellation and curtailment, medical expenses following accident or illnesses (other than IBD), baggage, theft and loss of valuables etc. So even if you have other arrangements in place to cover medical expenses for your Crohn's or colitis, you may still want to purchase travel insurance to cover other eventualities.
Please note that this information relates to short-stay visits abroad. If are going abroad on a longer-term basis to study or work, you may need to make further arrangements to cover medical expenses.