Spain Taken to Court for Refusing the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)


Within the European Union the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows citizens to access emergency medical treatment for free in 27 countries.

Despite this there have been “hundreds” of cases over the last three years in which holidaymakers in Spain have been turned away from hospitals, charged or been asked to claim on their insurance for treatment which should have been free under the reciprocal agreement.

The European Commission in Brussels is now investigating these complaints.  In one case reported by the BBC a Spanish debt collection agency tried to collect £54,000 from a British holiday maker for a month’s hospital stay.

Travel insurance

Even though the EHIC should cover emergency treatment in member countries you still need to get travel insurance when going on holiday in Europe.  The EHIC does not cover all medical costs such as an ambulance, GP visits, prescriptions or repatriation to your home country.  A journey home could be extremely expensive.  An air ambulance home from somewhere in Europe could cost as much as £16,000.


You also need to think about the extra costs associated with being ill.  You may need a new flight and additional accommodation if you have to stay in the country for longer.

Private health insurance

For UK nationals living abroad in Europe the EHIC is not sufficient cover.  This is because the EHIC is only meant for emergency treatment rather than the everyday healthcare that you need when you are living in a country.

International private medical insurance can provide access to private healthcare when you are living away from the UK. Healthcare provisions can vary considerably around the world and depending on your location public healthcare may not be available at all. An international health plan can provide cover for routine healthcare, emergencies, normal pregnancy, prescription drugs and even chronic conditions.

Cover includes:

  • Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and scans
  • Consultations with a specialist
  • Surgical procedures and hospital charges

How does international medical insurance work?

If you are living away from home and are unwell you would first contact your insurer.  Quite often they can advise you regarding English speaking doctors in your area.  They will then deal with the medical facility on your behalf providing a guarantee so that you will not be asked for a payment and can concentrate on getting well.  The insurer then pays the bill directly.

As shown by the recent cases in Spain, it is important to consider the potential cost of healthcare in countries where you are not able to access public treatment. Even if you are able to access care under a reciprocal agreement those with private healthcare cover benefit from speedier diagnosis and treatment, the highest quality care and lower infection risks. Global health insurers are also able to help with arranging suitable medical treatment, which can be difficult to do alone in a foreign country.

If you would like any further information or advice on arranging international medical insurance visit our Private Health Insurance site or contact one of our advisers on 0208 432 7333.

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