Brits Pay For Treatment Abroad As EHIC Gets Rejected

January 5, 2014



Britons abroad are falling foul of cash strapped European health systems, with foreign hospitals refusing to treat even those Brits armed with an EHIC. Tourists relying on the European Health Insurance Card are instead being recommended to contract additional travel insurance.

For years Britons have relied upon the EHIC to ensure emergency health care free of charge in EU member countries. However, with finances growing ever tighter and resources scarcer all over Europe, state healthcare providers are rejecting the EHIC and insisting that patients pay bills in cash or claim on private travel insurance due to fears that expenses will never be reimbursed by the state. The European Commission has been obliged to investigate the situation, focusing mainly on Spain, although incidences have also been reported in Portugal and Greece. British travel insurance providers have made official complaints about the matter as they are now having to pay out for treatments that should be covered by the EHIC.

Whilst the EHIC is supposed to cover emergency treatment while holidaying, Britons living abroad should ensure they contract expat insurance as the EHIC does not cover routine or ongoing treatments.

Spanish Crisis
The destination of nearly 11 million Britons on holiday every year, Spain is also one of the worst hit locations of the recession. Spanish nurses are not being paid and hospitals are struggling to cover bills. A further two million Brits are living in Spain and many have learned from harsh experience the value of expat insurance in a country where healthcare costs are high. A common complaint such as gastroenteritis could cost  3,000, as could treatment for an animal bite or allergic reaction to an insect sting if hospital treatment is required.

Facts And Figures
The EHIC is supposed to be part of a reciprocal scheme between EU member countries. This should mean Britons are entitled to the same care as residents of the country they are visiting and that foreigners visiting Britain receive the same care here as we do. However, recently released figures show disparities in the way the programme works, with Britain spending  247 million to treat Spaniards last year whilst our citizens received only  3.2 million worth of treatment in Spain. Similarly, Greek citizens received  7.9 million worth of treatment in the UK, whilst Britons only got  500,000 of treatment in Greece.

Travel Prepared
At the moment British tourists are advised to invest in a healthcare insurance policy before travelling rather than relying solely on the EHIC. Whilst a travel insurer will usually step in if the EHIC is refused, customers are often obliged to pay the excess part of their policy.


If you find you need emergency treatment abroad and your EHIC is refused, you will need to collect evidence. Make sure you obtain clear hospital notes that show the situation was a medical emergency and an itemised receipt for money paid. You should then lodge a complaint via the British Embassy and contact SOLVIT, an organisation that studies EU law breaches.

Georgina Mason is a travel consultant and expert on expat healthcare who writes regularly for a range of travel websites and blogs. She has lived in Spain for the past five years and is very familiar with the problems faced by expats abroad.

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