At least 15 insurance companies are charging British citizens abroad for healthcare that is provided free under the EHIC card scheme, a Spanish health association has claimed.

ASPE, the Association of Private Health Care patients, alleges that British insurers are costing the Spanish health system from 75 to 100 million Euros a year. Their spokesman, David Medina, has claimed that at least 15 British insurers are charging high premiums for policies that are “empty” and only provide the level of care already provided by the EHIC scheme.

ASPE’s complaint stems from the recent case of Martin Blake which has caused concern and consternation in both the UK and Spain. Mr Blake suffered a heart attack while on holiday on Lanzarote with his daughter last year, and was taken to the island’s general hospital, the José Molina Orosa.

However, medical staff at the hospital recommended that Mr Blake be sent for an angioplasty, either to the larger provincial hospital in Gran Canaria, or back in the UK. But Mr Blake’s insurer, Travel Insurance Facilities (TIF), which sells policies via Boots and Flexicover, among other brands, refused to pay for an air ambulance to either location, claiming – in apparent contradiction of Lanzarote doctors – that Mr Blake was not well enough to be transported.

Mr Blake was finally flown back to the UK on an air ambulance paid for by his family at a cost of €24,000, but sadly died of a stroke two days after his return. The Times newspaper took up Mr Blake’s case, and in June, a report by a Financial Ombudsman Service investigator criticised Travel Insurance Facilities (TIF), for failing to act “fairly or reasonably” in “such grave circumstances”. TIF has objected strongly to the report, and requested that the ombudsman review it.

Meanwhile, in Spain the case has attracted attention because of the suggestion that British insurers are expecting the Spanish public health services to allow them to escape their responsibilities.

Get Insured
First, ensure you have an EHIC card. This is free and guarantees emergency care at least until the UK leaves the European Union. If that happens with a transition agreement, care is likely to continue until at least the end of next year. The EHIC card expires after five years, so ensure yours is up to date. If you’re a UK resident on Lanzarote who is planning to visit the UK, you’ll also need an EHIC.

The UK government also recommends taking out private health insurance for all visitors to Spain, which will cover costs that the EHIC card may not, such as private health care, air ambulances etc.