Spain Under Fire for Refusing Tourists’ European Health Cards

On Thursday last week the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against Spain for public hospitals in tourist areas not accepting the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and forcing European patients to pay for treatments which are free for Spanish citizens.

The Brussels inquiry is as a result of the growing number of complaints received about Spanish public hospitals which are refusing to treat citizens who have an EHIC card and are requesting from them instead, their travel insurance and credit card.

Hospital care is free in Spain in general and the European Health Card entitles its holder to be treated in the same way as a Spanish citizen, stressed the Commission.

However, according to the complaints received by Brussels, some Spanish hospitals are incorrectly informing patients that their health card is not valid if they have travel insurance. In other cases, patients who believed they were being treated on their health card later discovered that the invoice had been sent to their insurance company.

The European Commission believes that, in doing this, hospitals are denying these European health card holders access to public health treatment under the same conditions as Spanish citizens, and only offering them private treatment. The high cost of this treatment is then billed to the insurance companies or, increasingly, to the patients themselves.

According to El Mundo, the insurance companies have informed Brussels that in most cases travel insurance does not provide private health cover.

The Commission has been negotiating with the Spanish authorities about this problem since 2010. Spanish authorities have indicated to the Commission that they have implemented measures to resolve it, but the number of complaints is still increasing.

Brussels has therefore decided to send a letter of formal notice, the first stage of the infringement procedure. If within two months the Spanish authorities do not take action, the European Commission will formally call for a legal reform and could end up taking the case before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.