The European Health Insurance Card (or EHIC) is issued free of charge and allows anyone who is insured by or covered by a statutory social security scheme of the EEA countries and Switzerland to receive medical treatment in another member state free or at a reduced cost, if that treatment becomes necessary during their visit (for example, due to illness or an accident), or if they have a chronic pre-existing condition which requires care such as kidney dialysis. The term of validity of the card varies according to the issuing country.
The intention of the scheme is to allow people to continue their stay in a country without having to return home for medical care; as such, it does not cover people who have visited a country for the purpose of obtaining medical care, nor does it cover care, such as many types of dental treatment, which can be delayed until the individual returns to his or her home country. The costs not covered by self-liability fees are paid by the issuing country, which is usually the country of residence but may also be the country where one receives the most pension from.
It only covers healthcare which is normally covered by a statutory health care system in the visited country, so it does not render travel insurance obsolete.
The card was phased in from 1 June 2004 and throughout 2005, becoming the sole healthcare entitlement document on 1 January 2006. The card is applicable in all French overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion and French Guiana) as they are part of the EEA, but not non-EEA dependent territories such as Jersey, the Isle of Man, Aruba or French Polynesia. However, there are agreements for the use of the EHIC in the Faroe Islands and Greenland, even though they are not in the EEA.
The reason for the existence of this card, is that the right to health care in Europe is based on the country of legal residence, not the country of citizenship. Therefore, a passport is not enough to receive health care. It is however possible that a photo ID document is asked for, since the European Health Insurance Card does not contain a photo.
In some cases, even if a person is covered by the health insurance of an EU country, one is not eligible for a European Health Insurance Card. For instance, in Romania, a person who is currently insured has to have been insured for the previous five years to be eligible. Romania is also the only participating country where not all permanent residents are covered by a health insurance. Due to these reasons the Romanian Roma people typically neither have European insurance cards nor is their costs paid by the country of residence.
It replaced the following medical forms:
European Health Insurance cards are provided free to all legal residents of participating countries. There are however various businesses who act as non-official agents on behalf of individuals, arranging supply of the cards in return for payment, often offering additional services such as the checking of applications for errors and general advice or assistance. This has proved extremely controversial. In 2010 the British government moved against companies that invited people to pay for the free EHIC, falsely implying that through payment the applicant could speed up the process. Despite this, the practice continues.
As of 2013, 32 countries in Europe participate: the 31 member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) plus Switzerland. This coincides with the 28 member states of the European Union (EU), 4 member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
In August 2015 the Daily Mail ran a story about abuse of the EHIC system in which a card was issued to its undercover Hungarian reporter who “obtained the card after visiting the UK for less than one day” after another journalist posed as her landlord and presented a GP with the tenancy agreement of a property that neither occupied in order to get an NHS number. It claimed that "foreigners were charging the NHS for care in their own country." As The Guardian pointed out, the NHS issued a card to an individual that wasn’t eligible to receive the card because a GP was duped into issuing an NHS number, and it was unclear what benefit would accrue as a result.
With no active investigation branch, the likelihood of NHS authorities discovering fraud is extremely low. The Huffington Post reported that only nine instances of low-level fraud involving the EHIC in the UK had been discovered in five years with a combined cost of £712.56.
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