EC to take action against Spanish refusal to honour EHIC cards

Published:  31 May at 6 PM
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Following extensive media coverage of the refusal by Spanish hospitals to allow expats free treatment via the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), the European Commission is to take legal action.

Under European Union rules, all citizens of member states are able to get free or cheap medical treatment in any EU country. Citing the cost of providing comprehensive heathcare as a reason, many Spanish hospitals have been turning away expats and visitors with EHIC cards.

Payments for treatment are being demanded upfront, even from visitors with valid travel insurance, and recently arrived expats who believed they were covered by the EU ruling are being affected. Worse still, taxi drivers, hotel staff and couriers are being accused of being paid to direct expats in need of medical attention to private clinics who don’t accept the card.

The hospital system in Spain feature three levels of care, the state-run service, private clinics and hospitals and a hybrid system combining the first two. All hospitals which treat Spanish citizens under the government system must, by EU law, accept the EHIC card.

Although no genuine emergency has been refused treatment, expats and their family visitors have been forced to give their credit card details before being examined, with some having to pay a considerable upfront charge. For recently-arrived expats who have not yet transferred to the Spanish healthcare scheme, the situation as it stands is scary.

Long-term residents, many of whom are retirees, are now being advised to take out private health insurance. However, with the massive increases in the cost of private health plans and the increasingly strict terms and age limits, this may be an unaffordable option even if they are acceptable to the heathcare companies.
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