European Union of Private Hospitals

Thousands of British tourists are at risk of having travel insurance policies which only cover public healthcare

NOVEMBER 2019. Some British companies sell travel insurance policies which include only health services already covered by the British and Spanish state-provided healthcare systems through the European Health Insurance Card, excluding de facto Spanish private hospitals (40 % of hospitals in Spain).

Moreover, those companies are selling healthcare provided by public medical establishments, which is against the law, as they are offering healthcare British citizens are already entitled to and for which they bear none of the costs.

This prevents those tourists from accessing with their travel health insurance Spanish private hospitals and clinics, which in some cases might prevent them from receiving adequate treatment.

Those British insurers are also committing a possible fraud against British travellers who believe that their medical care abroad is covered for all types of healthcare institutions.

In practice

Travel insurance policies require British tourists to have a European Health Insurance Card, so they can be transferred to a public healthcare organisation. When tourists enter a private hospital or clinic, they either bear the cost for private medical services or consult their insurance company, which immediately refers them to public hospitals, alleging that the private healthcare system in Spain is deficient. This is completely untrue, given the high level of international scope of Spanish private health care. The real goal of these practices of attempting to discredit Spanish private medical healthcare is to avoid meeting their responsibilities as insurers.

This situation places the health of British travellers at serious risk, the insurers forcing private hospitals to refer them to a public hospital as soon as possible, sometimes even in cases where a transfer compromises the patient’s health.

These practices mean high costs both for the Spanish National Health System (the SNS), which must handle a greater volume of patients, including those who, in theory, could have been treated in private hospitals, and for the British National Health Service (NHS) which must cover the costs of treatments at Spanish public healthcare facilities.

However, it is the Spanish private medical healthcare sector which is most affected if a foreign patient with such an insurance is treated or admitted. Private hospitals are subjected to medical costs, which can be very high on some occasions, and which are neither borne by the patient nor by the insurer. In addition, the private facility is often unfairly requested to pay the cost for transferring the patient and any subsequent healthcare service provided at the public hospital.

ASPE calls for an end to these abusive practices, which affect patients, public and private healthcare systems. ASPE demands that these insurance firms provide consumers with clear information about the coverage included in their travel insurance policies; it is calling for users to sign a specific document regarding the healthcare assistance service and is asking for clear information so that patients, if they decide to go to a private healthcare establishment, know they have to bear the costs of the healthcare service.

Action plan

Among other actions, ASPE intends to file a second complaint with the European Commission, for fraudulent use of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). In addition, for months, ASPE has contacted different British authorities to inform them of this situation, the illegal enrichment achieved by these insurance companies and the violation of the rights of their citizens.

Within Spain, ASPE requested support from the central government and regional governments to curb this practice. In addition, during the summer a communication campaign has been carried out to defend the Spanish private healthcare from the defamatory tactics used by these insurers with citizens of the United Kingdom. Private institutions have disseminated this information widely to British travelers.

To this end, ASPE has released a dedicated booklet, so that affected patients know their rights. It is distributed by its member institutions, especially in touristic areas. ASPE also launched a website, www.safetraveltospain.com, where travelers can find more detailed information.

Finally, ASPE is considering taking legal actions to prevent Spanish state authorities from passing the costs of transfers and/or medical treatments to private healthcare insitutions.

About ASPE

The Alianza de la Sanidad Privada Española (ASPE) is the business association for the Spanish private healthcare sector. ASPE brings together nearly 600 private healthcare organisations and represents more than 75% of hospital centres. The main aim of the association is to defend, represent and foster the common objectives of its members, to promote the private medical healthcare sector and to offer services and activities which are of use and interest for private healthcare organisations. https://aspesanidadprivada.es/