The EC has decided against further investigating complaints put forward by the Spanish Private Hospitals Association, indicating that a lack of evidence to support the complaints means that it is not an EC issue, but one that should be dealt with by national authorities. In its letter to ASPE, seen by ITIJ, Rossella Delfino of the EC states: “The Commission does not consider these allegations to be a breach of European Union law.” Delfino goes on to state that, as such, the complaints will be archived by the EC, but that if ASPE considers that the issue is ongoing, to appeal to the relevant authorities in the UK that deal with financial regulation of insurance companies.
The Association asserted back in 2017 that some British tourists were buying private travel insurance policies that were not fit for purpose in Spain, in that they did not actually cover the holder for medical treatment in a private hospital. Instead, the policies state that the holder should attend a public hospital and be treated under the terms of their European Health Insurance Card, which would mean the treatment was free or significantly reduced in price.
The accusations from ASPE – Alianza de la Sanidad Privada Española (Spanish Private Hospitals Association) – centred on around 15 different British travel insurers, whose policies stipulated that the holder should access medical care through the public system, effectively denying coverage if the policyholder were to receive treatment in a private hospital without prior approval of the assistance company.
This, said ASPE, results in tourists who attended private facilities being relocated to public hospitals, who then send the bill for treatment to the private facility that referred them, instead of to the UK government or to the patient’s insurer. ASPE maintains its position that the practice of steering patients to public facilities when they are in need of urgent medical care puts the health of the patients at risk, and also utilises the resources of an already saturated public health system.
Solutions on the table – keep tourists informed
ASPE met with the Spanish Ministries of External Affairs, Health and Work to discuss the issue and shed light on the number of tourists being affected by this situation and examine the economic cost of the issue. The Minister of External Affairs has now said that information on insurance will be available on their website and he would inform the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office that they should do the same on their website. Furthermore, he will suggest that the FCO recommend on their site that tourists, when buying travel insurance, take note of the details of the cover.