By Simon O'Hare
Two out of five Europeans hold a continent-wide health card that enables them to receive emergency healthcare across the European Union, an official has revealed.
Laszlo Andor, European Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is "a real success".
The latest figures show there are now more than 190 million EHIC holders, which provides coverage across the whole of the EU and in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.
There has been a steady increase in the number of people holding the card, with 15 million more people carrying an EHIC in 2012 than in the previous year.
"Most of the time, the EHIC works without any problems. However, if a Member State fails to fulfil its obligations under EU law and refuses to recognise the card, the Commission will take action to defend the rights of European citizens," Mr Andor said.
Under the terms of the EHIC, the card holder is entitled to receive emergency treatment in the host country's public healthcare system on the same terms and at the same cost as nationals of that country.
The national health insurance provider in the citizen's home country provides the card free of charge.
Card holders are not, however, allowed to use the EHIC to cover planned treatment in another country.
It is said that the required healthcare is provided without any problems, and holders are reimbursed, in the vast majority of cases the card needs to be used.
If a patient finds that the EHIC is not accepted then they are advised to contact the relevant health authority in the country they are visiting.
If their problems continue then they are advised to contact the European Commission to have the issue resolved.
European citizens are able to see full details about the card's terms and conditions on the EHIC mobile app.
It includes information about the card itself, emergency phone numbers, treatments that are covered and costs, how to claim reimbursement and who to contact if the card is lost.
The app is available in 24 languages with the option to switch from one language to another and it will soon be updated to account for Croatia's recent accession to the EU.