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European Commission investigates Spanish hospitals rejecting EU health cards

Hundreds of European tourists have complained that Spanish hospitals won't take their European Heath Insurance Cards.

Mallorca beaches health cardEnlarge
A German tourist on a beach in Mallorca, Spain. (JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission is investigating hundreds of complaints from European tourists who say that Spanish hospitals refused to accept their European Heath Insurance Card while they were on holiday there.

The EHIC entitles European Union citizens to free healthcare in public hospitals in all the 27 EU member countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

But tourists and insurance companies have reported that many Spanish hospitals have rejected the cards, forcing travelers to claim the cost of treatment from their travel insurance companies or pay for it themselves.

The travel insurance companies say this has resulted in higher premiums for travelers, the Guardian reported.

"Unfortunately, we're also now seeing holidaymakers without the back-up of a travel insurance policy being asked for a credit card before treatment is given, or in some cases refused treatment altogether under the EHIC scheme," Sarah Watson, editor of the International Travel Insurance Journal, told the Guardian.

The European Commission has asked the Spanish government for more information, BBC News reported. If Spanish hospitals are found to be skirting the law, the Commission could issue a fine.

The Spanish health ministry told BBC News that the EHIC "has worked properly in Spain for years.”

“The patient is the one who decides what paperwork to sign, in terms of being treated in Spain," the ministry added.

More from GlobalPost: European Union to ban refillable olive oil jugs

The European Commission releases a package of decisions every month that highlights to member nations which regulations they not applying properly. 

There were 143 such decisions released Thursday. It's much more rare for the EU's executive body to actually refer a national government to the bloc's high court — a process than can lead to daily fines being imposed until the country falls into line.

The five cases sent to the court Thursday include Greek violations of environmental rules and Estonia failing to set up an independent regulator for its telecoms market.

But the Britain case ruling comes at a politically sensitive time, after the Euro-skeptic United Kingdom Independence Party made gains in local elections with its alarmist warnings that the country is on the verge of an invasion by Romanians and Bulgarians seeking to live off Britain's social security system.

Under pressure from UKIP, the ruling Conservative Party has promised to crack down on foreigners "scrounging" off the British system. Iain Duncan Smith, the employment and pensions minister, vowed to fight "every step of the way" to resist the Commission's action.

The debate will likely be used to drum up further 'Euro-skeptic' feeling among Brits, who will vote in a referendum on leaving the EU before 2017. 

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent, Paul Ames, contributed reporting from Brussels, Belgium. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/spain/130530/european-commission-investigates-spanish-hospitals-rejecti

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