THE European Commission is launching legal action against Spain after increasing complaints that some hospitals refuse to recognise the European Health Insurance Card.
The EHIC entitles EU citizens to free healthcare in public hospitals, but it appears that some Spanish hospitals rejected have rejected the card.
This means that European foreign nationals are in effect being charged as private patients and many end up reclaiming the cost of treatment via their travel insurance.
The Commission has requested information from the Spanish government on the issue, which is the first stage of an infringement procedure.
“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,” said a statement from the Commission.
“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 EHIC is mainly intended for emergency treatment for EU citizens, but it also covers tourists for pre-existing medical conditions.
It can be deemed invalid in cases where doctors believe the treatment can wait until the tourist returns home.
Mandy Aitchison, editor of the International Travel Insurance Journal, told the BBC she believes that one of the problems in Spain is the sheer number of people who travel there.
It is thought that more than 10 million UK tourists visit Spain every year and about 30 will require medical treatment each week, which can put a strain on Spanish hospitals.
“They have ended up employing third-party private companies, who work on their behalf to try and recover the cost of treating lots and lots of foreigners,” Ms Aitchison added.
“And obviously in Spain the problem is exacerbated by the number of foreigners they have to treat, because it’s a very popular holiday destination.”