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From what I've understood, the health security systems in EU are cooperating, so if I have public health insurance in one country, I can, when it's urgently needed, use medical services in the other country.

There are EHIC cards that some countries issue before each foreign travel (for example, in Poland, you must apply giving the exact days of your travel abroad). It's quite problematic, because you need a few hours for it, so if you travel frequenlty for short periods, it's a large overhead.

But, since EHIC is available for free and it's thought to only confirm the rights I already have, do I actually need at at all? Can I be refused refundation of urgent medical procedures (unsuspected illness, an accident like breaking leg etc.) because I don't have EHIC? Is it rational to lose 3-4 hours before each 3-4 days trip for getting that card? What's the worse thing that can happen ONLY because I don't have it?

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    As a side note, in the UK, the cards are one-time issue, valid essentially forever. The government recommends that people get it and carry it with them. – Aleks G Jul 18 '14 at 14:50
  • + for UK, but I don't understand, why do you need a separate card at all, one (your national) should be enough... – Danubian Sailor Jul 18 '14 at 14:51
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    How should you be able to confirm in country A that you have public health insurance in country B without actually carrying some kind of proof? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 18 '14 at 15:22
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    To answer your comment, you are not entitled to national health service just be being a citizen of a given EU country. E.g. in the UK you need to be a resident, in other countries it is more complicated. – Grzenio Jul 18 '14 at 16:20
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    In the UK, the EHIC is usually valid for 5 years, not forever. So make sure yours if still valid before travelling. It is easy to renew it online, for free. – vclaw Jul 18 '14 at 19:28
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Yes you do need one. As someone from the UK who had to use a doctor in Spain, you will be presented with an estimate of charges which you will need to pay by credit or debit card before treatment begins. The initial consult with a GP can cost several hundred pounds before any real treatment happens. I made sure we had EHIC cards as soon as we got home, and always carry them on EU holidays.

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The worse thing that can happen is having to pay for the treatment yourself, possibly at some inflated/non-regulated price. A slightly less serious problem is having to pay the regular price out of pocket, with a lot of paperwork to recover (some of) the money. I don't think you could be refused treatment for an emergency in the EU countries I know.

Also note that the healthcare systems differ widely between EU countries. What the EHIC offers is a level of coverage similar to the local statutory/public health system. In some countries, it means healthcare is free at the point of delivery or you might have to pay only a small part of the costs out of pocket. This makes any insurance claim after the fact more difficult that in countries where people routinely pay out of pocket.

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