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In figures supplied to this newspaper by the Executive, the HSE confirmed that it issued 487,049 EHIC cards in 2016.
There are now more than 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,” a HSE spokesperson told MI.
“There are currently 1,602,000 valid cards in circulation which is a third of population.”
The HSE has previously told MI that the number of cards issued per year “varies considerably and are heavily influenced by events in Europe”. Last year, the high number of cards issued was thought 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 European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland if they become ill or injured while on a temporary stay there.
The future of the EHIC card for British citizens has been part of the ongoing discussions over Brexit between EU and British government officials. The BBC reported on 1 September that it was still “unclear” whether a final deal has been reached between the parties on this issue.