HEALTHCARE

Brussels takes action against Spain for refusing EU health cards

Legal move comes after growing number of complaints about hospitals denying treatment to tourists

The European Commission is launching an infringement procedure against Spain for refusing to accept European Health Insurance Cards in some of its public hospitals, EC sources told Europa Press.

The legal action is the result of the growing number of complaints Brussels is receiving regarding the refusal of Spanish hospitals in tourist areas to treat European Union citizens who are carrying the health card. Healthcare centers have instead been demanding travel insurance or credit card details from patients.

Hospital treatment is free in Spain and the European Health Insurance Card should entitle holders to the same services as any Spanish citizen, the EC stressed.

However, some hospitals have been erroneously informing patients that their health cards are not valid if they have travel insurance, according to the complaints. In other cases, patients who thought they were receiving treatment through their health card later discovered that a bill had been sent to their insurers.

The EC believes that hospitals are thus denying cardholders access to the same healthcare as Spaniards, and only offering them private treatment. The high cost of the treatment is then billed to insurance companies or, increasingly, to the patients themselves. Insurers have also told Brussels that travel insurance policies do not cover private healthcare in the majority of cases.

The EC has asked Spain for more information on the issue — the first stage of an infringement procedure. If the Spanish authorities do not take measures within two months, the EC will formally ask for a legal reform and could end up taking the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

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