European Health Insurance Card row lands Spain in court

Published:  16 Jul at 6 PM
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The European Commission is taking Spain to court over its failure to honour the EU-wide European Health Insurance Card.

Expat complaints about the ignoring of the reciprocity rules implicit in the EU Health Insurance Card (EHIC) have been ongoing for at least three years, resulting in the European Commission’s decision to take court action against Spain, The rules dictate that member states must provide free emergency heathcare to carriers of the card.

The court case is expected to bring into focus discrepancies in other EU states as to expat and tourist healthcare provision. Lawyers for the EC will be citing hundreds of cases in which visitors and expat residents in need of urgent heathcare were turned away or forced to pay in advance and claim on their insurance.

The complaints all concern non-Spanish nation EU citizens in possession of EHICs who have needed emergency care at Spanish hospitals. Patients, including British holidaymakers, were refused treatment unless they handed over their credit cards for debiting or provided their travel insurance policies for inspection before treatment commenced.

In one case, a British boy fatally injured in an accident was refused treatment and later died of his injuries. Another Briton needing immediate surgery for a twisted bowel was charged £21,000, and a woman suffering a head injury was charged £2,500.

A Spanish debt-collection agency attempted to recover £54,000 from a British visitor covered by his EHIC after he had to spend a month in a Spanish hospital. When another UK tourist was taken seriously ill, the hospital refused to take his EHIC and demanded his insurance details when he refused to surrender his credit card.

Hospitals serving favourite holiday and retirement destinations in Alicante and Almeria seem to be the worst offenders, and Austria’s Alpine ski resorts are now under criticism. It’s hoped that the EC’s move will cut the practices and provide security in emergencies under the EHIC as they are legally obliged to do.
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