Spain faces EU legal action over hospital bills for tourists
Anybody from an EU country should be able to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to gain access to free emergency medical treatment in any other member country that they visit.
However, recent reports following on from complaints over the past few months indicate that hospitals in Spain are still refusing to treat British tourists unless they produce travel insurance documentation or credit cards in some cases.
Now Brussels has threatened the country with legal action because of 'increasing complaints' from travellers from Britain and other European Union countries about the practice.
The European Commission (EC) has asked the Spanish government to clarify the situation and issued a statement which said: "The commission's request follows an increasing number of complaints it has received concerning hospitals providing public healthcare services, mainly in tourist areas of Spain, which refuse to treat citizens on the basis of their EHIC and instead request a travel insurance policy and credit card details.
"In some cases, citizens have been erroneously informed that their EHIC is not valid if they have travel insurance. Other patients believed they were being treated on the basis of their EHIC, but later found out that their travel insurance company had been sent a bill for treatment," the statement continued.
If the reports are true, it effectively means that European foreign nationals are being charged as private patients when they should in fact receive the same treatment under the same rules as native Spaniards.
The EC cited the example of a "Mrs X" who was billed £400 even though she had presented her EHIC card while seeking emergency treatment for a fractured arm at a hospital on the Costa del Sol on February 13 2013.
The EC said: "Mrs X is now being chased by the hospital by telephone for payment. She has been asked to pay directly as the insurer will not pay the cost of the treatment she received. Mr and Mrs A are extremely worried that they will be pursued by the legal team of hospital for payment, even though they went to great lengths to show they were covered by the EHIC."
Taking a EHIC and travel insurance when you go abroad is a good way to protect yourself from financial disasters while overseas. A prepaid card can also help to keep financial mishaps to a minimum by ensuring you stick to a pre-determined budget.