Holiday health: Why carrying the card may not be enough

The European Commission is investigating reports Spanish hospitals are refusing the EHIC. Photo: NHS

The EU Commission has this lunchtime formally requested information from Spain about complaints that Spanish hospitals are not recognising the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The Commission is concerned that Spain might be failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law. So what does this mean for you?

Ten million British holidaymakers will visit Spain this summer. But every week 30 will need medical treatment in Spanish hospitals. They're entitled to it free when they show a European Health Insurance Card. But UK insurers have told us of over a 100 cases where tourists have been refused - and referred instead to expensive private care.

  • 24 million UK citizens hold an EHIC
  • It entitles you to state care "on the same basis" as people who live in that country, including pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care

Among complaints are a British child with head injuries refused state treatment - and therefore ending up going private. Another case involved a holidaymaker hospitalised for a month, costing 37,000 Euros - which they had expected to be covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Advice: The EHIC is not truly a substitute for travel insurance. For example, it does not cover the cost of an air ambulance to get you home - and that can amount to £15,000.

An EHIC will get you basic state care. In some countries, you will get treatment, but other things - such as food, drink or even changing your bed linen - are not regarded as the responsibility of the health service.

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