Spain’s Ehic refusal prompts legal action from European Commission

British insurance firms lodge complaints as holidaymakers in Spain are told to reclaim cost of health care from their insurer

The European Commission is taking legal action against Spain after hospitals refused treatment to British holidaymakers carrying a European health insurance card (Ehic).

Holidaymakers are advised to take an Ehic on their travels, giving them peace of mind that they will be entitled to free healthcare in public hospitals in any of the 27 EU member countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. While British travellers are not entitled to the same free treatments on offer at the NHS, they are able to access the treatment availble to local residents.

However, the commission has received hundreds of complaints about Spain from holidaymakers who have been told to reclaim the cost of treatment from their travel insurer, or forced to cover it themselves.

A number of leading British insurance companies have lodged official complaints as they are being left to foot the bill for treatment they should not have to pay for – and their increased costs are being passed on to holidaymakers in the form of increased premiums.

The commission has requested information on the issue from the Spanish government, which has two months to respond. There have been reports of similar incidents in Greece and Portugal, but it is not clear if the commission is investigating these as well.

Ehic is supposed to cover the cost of emergency treatment and cover patients for pre-existing long-term medical conditions, although people travelling to the EU are still advised to have travel insurance as private healthcare and flights home are not covered.

The EU says that where possible travellers with an Ehic should insist on being treated under the publicly financed health system and refuse to sign anything they do not understand. They should also keep all receipts and documents.

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