Warning for Brits travelling to Spain over EHIC problems

Be careful if you're visiting Spain. A growing number of British tourists have been persuaded to pay for emergency medical treatment from state-run hospitals, despite carrying European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC).

The Association of British Insurers is now looking at more than 100 cases of British tourists being charged. What are your rights? %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Travel pain in Spain?

Some Britons visiting Spain have been told that they have to pay up front and reclaim the cash via travel insurance - if they have any. If you don't have travel insurance, then you have, potentially, a big problem and a big bill.

Under the European Health Insurance Card scheme, all Europeans are entitled to the same free treatment as would any national be of any European country (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

Currently Which? is advising Britons to snap up travel insurance, as an EHIC card "will not provide for every medical emergency or expense that might arise when you're abroad." However, the principle of free care still stands: if you're a European citizen, you're entitled to basic free emergency healthcare, wherever you are. The card won't cover repatriation costs or other emergencies, such as lost baggage.

Travel insurance?

The Department of Health confirmed to AOL Money that travel insurance was not a necessity in the EU. "We have advised that you're under no obligation to provide travel insurance in a state healthcare facility and you have the right to insist that your EHIC is accepted."

"The vast majority of people," adds the Department of Health, "using the EHIC do not experience any difficulty and we want everyone to have confidence when travelling that they will have access to the healthcare they are entitled to."

"But people," it went on, "should also be clear the EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance. Anyone travelling abroad should have EHIC and travel insurance, while British Nationals living in Spain should ensure that they register correctly for healthcare in Spain."

Insist on your rights

The Department of Health added that some British nationals living in Spain have found themselves unable to access proper treatment, as they have never registered when living there. (To register for healthcare in Spain, click on this link)

Which? Advice summary:
  • Insist on being treated under the publicly financed health system
  • Refuse to sign anything you not understand
  • Keep all receipts and documents
  • If your EHIC details are refused from a state-run clinic, get proof that you presented it at the time (as this could be key to getting the excess waived by your insurer)
  • If you think you've been incorrectly charged, you may be entitled to reimbursement from the Department of Work and Pensions
  • Travel insurance is advised though it's not a necessity for most circumstances

To apply for your free EHIC card, click on this link.

Compare travel insurance here

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Warning for Brits travelling to Spain over EHIC problems

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.


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