A recent court ruling in Spain could mean that European travellers’ right to healthcare is in jeopardy. But do we really understand the EHIC?
Since 2010, the European Commission has been in contact with the Spanish authorities over some of its hospitals’ refusal to accept the EHIC to cover medical treatment. Foreigners requiring treatment in Spain have been wrongly informed that their EHIC is not valid if they have travel insurance. They have therefore been denied public healthcare and offered only private treatment, the cost of which is being passed on to their insurers or the patients themselves.
A recent legal case in Madrid also saw a British insurance firm lose out to the administrator of Spanish public hospitals. The insurer was found to be liable to pay for the treatment given to its policy holders in public hospitals, as according to the judge: “even when a patient is covered by social security, the private insurance policy that covers the treatment is liable for payment.”
This ruling was made under Spanish law, but it appears to contravene an EU Directive that grants EHIC holders the same medical rights as local people. Whether or not the European Commission will pursue this case remains to be seen, but it does throw light onto the sometimes confusing status of the EHIC.
So what is the function of the EHIC? Many people aren’t quite sure. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 17% of travellers assume they don’t need insurance for travelling in Europe because they have an EHIC. But all members of the scheme should be aware that the EHIC only covers medically necessary care in state facilities. It doesn’t cover costs such as repatriation to the UK in the event of a medical emergency, or even guarantee free treatment. It simply grants its holders the same access to healthcare as would be received by local people. The EHIC is therefore not an alternative to taking out travel insurance when journeying in Europe.
SportsCover Direct provides a range of travel insurance packages designed to cover active holidays and competitive sport abroad. Doing sport significantly increases the risk of injury and the likelihood of requiring medical attention whilst abroad, so travellers should thoroughly research their insurance to make sure they are fully covered for their chosen activity.