Posted on Feb 09, 2010 by Sergio Ulloa
Politicians and Doctors in Spain have recently joined forces to speak out against certain British 'health tourists' who are receiving free-of-charge medical treatment which is ultimately being paid for by taxpayers.
The SiMAP Union, representing public health doctors in Spain, criticized travelers holding the European Health Insurance Card
(EHIC) for misusing the provision of emergency care and treatment destined for troubled holidaymakers. This criticism is not directed to expats with rightful residency who pay taxes.
Out of the thousands of British expats and tourists alternating residence between UK and Spain there is a percentage who time their visits to coincide with their needs for medical treatment. An approximate estimate by SiMAP puts this figure at 20 percent of all hospital admissions in Alicante, a favoured tourist destination.
Health professionals for years have kept silent about what politicians labeled as "freeloading" by these expats, and it's possible that this rare support is instigated by the Doctors' first-hand perception of the issues; issues which include 'medical tourists' jumping queues, draining the Spanish healthcare system of their limited resources and depriving local people of medical attention they are rightfully entitled to receive.
One point of contention is the definition of 'emergency treatment' which has meant that in most instances Doctors do not question the alleged illnesses claimed by these foreign patients.
Addressing the above issue from a different angle, UK-based International healthcare and insurance firm PMI Global recently found that up to 20 per cent of companies are not procuring the correct health insurance for their expat employees in long-term foreign assignments.
In a report compiled by PMI Global, it was also revealed that up to 48 percent of companies didn't carry the appropriate health assessments for the destinations their expat employees are sent to, and almost 50 percent of the companies neglect organizing the necessary vaccinations. Other problems identified include the level of access to psychological assistance and proper advice on where to receive medical attention.
According to comments by the operations director for PMI Global, too many employers are relying on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in lieu of a proper international health insurance cover to ensure the medical attention their staff may require whilst on overseas assignments.
"While the EHIC entitles any resident in the UK to receive emergency healthcare treatment while traveling in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, restrictions mean it isn't a substitute for standalone international health insurance," Rachael Floyd, operations director for PMI Global stated.
Given the looming healthcare budget shrinkage for both Spain's SiMAP and the UK's NHS, a possible target for cost-cutting measures would be the resources currently allocated for non-essential treatments and such action could potentially solve the perceived 'medical care freeloading' problem.
Insurance company and union mentioned:
PMI Global is a pioneering service offering an integrated package of insurance and healthcare support for employees abroad. The service is operated by PMI Health Group, the UK's largest independent specialist provider of employee healthcare and insurance services.
SiMAP is a union of doctors in Valencia working in the public healthcare sector, covering the 3 provinces in the community. With essential presence in the Health Sector Roundtable, without favouritisms, to achieve greater quality of care and decent working conditions.