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The figure marks an increase on the amount spent in 2016, even though the total number of people availing of the card and the episodes of care declined.
In 2017, a total of 12,621 persons availed of healthcare in Ireland using an EHIC card for 18,744 episodes of care at a cost of €4,244,291, according to figures supplied to this newspaper by the HSE.
The EHIC card allows the holder to access healthcare services when travelling to or on holiday in another EU or EEA country.
“In 2016, 17,703 persons availed of healthcare in Ireland using their EHIC for 27,142 episodes of care, at a cost of €3,909,529,” the HSE’s spokesperson told MI.
Separately, the Executive said it issued 460,651 EHIC cards in 2017. Approximately 138,100 have been issued since the start of this year and the beginning of May, added the spokesperson. Last October, the HSE said there were over 1.6 million valid cards issued by the HSE “in circulation”.
“The HSE does not have a yearly target, as all applications are processed and cards issued if entitlement exists.”
The HSE has previously stated that the number of cards issued per year “varies considerably” and this is “heavily influenced by events in Europe”. In 2016, the high number of cards issued was believed to be partly linked to the European Championship soccer tournament in France, which the Republic of Ireland competed in. All Irish residents are entitled to receive healthcare through the public system in countries of the EU, EEA or Switzerland if they become ill or injured while on a temporary stay.
The impact of Brexit on EHIC cards has been raised in recent months in the British press and in the British House of Lords. Last October, Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Dáil, “my Department and its agencies have been conducting analysis on the impacts of Brexit in the area of health.
“A number of issues, including matters relating to EHIC, are being examined. The Department is working closely with the Health Service Executive, which has operational responsibility for the EHIC, to examine proposals on the maintenance of the EHIC benefits for Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.”