180 Million People Now Have a European Health Insurance Card

As the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) initiative nears a five year milestone, the European Commission has today announced new statistics showing that the number of cards in circulation has topped 180 million. The number of Europeans holding the card has increased every year since the programme's introduction in 2004. The EHIC is a free card that ensures cardholders receive the same access to public sector health care (e.g. a doctor, a pharmacy, a hospital or a health care centre) as residents of the country they are visiting.

Statistics prove the initiative's success
The EHIC makes it easy for cardholders to get the medical care they need if they become sick or injured while temporarily visiting one of the 31 participating countries.(1) Between June 2004 and December 2005 the EHIC was progressively introduced to replace the previous paper form called "E111".

The card is most widely held in Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria where respectively 99%, 96% and 96% of the population have an EHIC. These high circulation rates can be explained by the fact that the EHIC is on the reverse side of those countries' national health care cards: so for these residents, receipt of the EHIC is automatic.

Lower circulation in some countries can be partially explained by the fact that those citizens tend to take fewer holiday trips outside of their home country. For example, Eurostat 2006 figures show that only 11% of holidays (of at least four nights) taken by Greek residents are to destinations outside Greece – and only 1% of Greeks are EHIC cardholders. The EHIC card, however, is not only valid for holiday travel; it can be used no matter the purpose of a trip (work, study, holiday). Non-cardholders risk facing more difficulties in meeting the costs of healthcare they may need while travelling abroad, as in most cases, they will be asked to pay upfront.

Statistics show that usage of the EHIC card has also increased every year, another indication that the initiative is working. The continuing rise in the number of cards in circulation and the increased usage figures together indicate that people are becoming more and more familiar with the advantages of the card.

Less paperwork means less stress for both doctor and patient
The EHIC benefits both cardholders who become injured or sick while traveling abroad and healthcare providers by minimising paperwork. As more travellers carry the card, healthcare providers are getting familiar with the procedures they have to handle for foreign patients: More and more users and health professionals are becoming aware of the benefits of the card.

The common European design of the card itself is one of the reasons the card is a success. To help ensure that healthcare providers can easily recognise the European Health Insurance Card, a uniform design is used by all participating countries. The same data is always in the same position on the card, and this minimises the chance for confusing information – particularly when considering language differences. The only difference is the length of validity: it is up to each Member State to decide how long the card is valid for.

Thanks to successful public outreach and education, and the sheer practical benefits of the programme, more and more Europeans are obtaining the card.

For more information, available in all official languages:
http://ehic.europa.eu

1. The European Health Insurance Card is available to anyone, regardless of nationality, who is covered by the public healthcare system in any of the 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It is also valid for travel in all of these participating countries. The EU countries are: Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; United Kingdom.

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