Spanish hospitals are refusing to accept the European health insurance card (EHIC) carried by British expats and holidaymakers, forcing the European Commission to step in and investigate.
British insurance firms have lodged complaints since increasing numbers of Brits have been told by hospitals that they must pay for their treatment and claim the cost back from their insurers.
However, holidaymakers carrying the EHIC are entitled to free treatment at public hospitals and the card brings peace of mind for those who carry one.
All 27 members of the European Union accept the card for treatment, as do hospitals in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Now hundreds of Brits have been left out of pocket and the UK’s insurance firms are stumping up to pay for the hospital bills which they say they shouldn’t have to pay for.
The insurance firms say that premiums will have to increase to cover the extra charges.
However, those without health or travel insurance are being forced to pay for their own treatment.
Carrying the EHIC doesn’t entitle the holder to the same level of free treatments found on the NHS but it should enable them to access the same treatment as locals.
Apparently there is a similar situation in Portugal, with the Brits carrying the EHIC there having to pay for their treatment.
In addition to the insurance firms, hundreds of British holidaymakers have also filed complaints with the European Commission.
Now the Spanish government has two months to give a response as to why their hospitals are forcing Brits to pay their treatment.
Sarah Watson, who edits the International Travel Insurance Journal, said: “We are seeing holidaymakers who don’t have travel insurance being asked for a credit card before being treated – or being refused treatment under the EHIC scheme.”
While travellers are urged to take out travel insurance – things like private healthcare and flights home are not covered – the EHIC scheme is meant to cover emergency treatment and any long-standing health issues the carrier may have.
Graeme Trudgill, of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, said the Commission’s investigation was welcome and added: “The EHIC should be accepted by all hospitals in EU member states as it covers emergency treatment, regardless of whether the traveller has travel insurance or not.”
The European Commission has now issued advice to expats and holidaymakers and says they should not sign anything they do not understand and to keep all documents and receipts for their treatment.
They add that all travellers should insist on being treated if they are carrying the EHIC and refuse to pay for treatment if the hospital is publically financed.