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How UK insurance companies are selling already free health cover to elderly Brits in Spain

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How UK insurance companies are selling already free health cover to elderly Brits in Spain
Photo: AFP
12:34 CEST+02:00
The death of a 72-year-old British man in Spain who was reportedly led to believe by his travel insurer that he had full private medical cover abroad has brought to light a prevalent and dubious scheme aimed at elderly tourists.

Up to 15 British insurance companies are selling UK tourists private policies that offer what’s already available to them for free as EU citizens through Spain’s public health system.

That's according to Spain’s Private Health Alliance (ASPE), who alarmed by the spike in cases involving tourists unknowingly stuck in Spain without private health cover, have decided to publicly denounce what’s happening in tourist hotspots around the country.

"For years these companies have been selling insurance policies that are empty of any content,” David Medina, member of ASPE’s board of directors, told a press conference.

The recent death of 72-year-old Brit Martin Blake, who had a heart attack while on holiday in Lanzarote, has brought to light the serious repercussions of these cases of "potentially systematic fraud".

“Martin Blake died due to inaction on the part of the insurer when it came to transporting the patient to another hospital which was equipped to treat him,” Medina explained.

ASPE argues that whenever a supposedly insured person has health problems abroad, the insurance companies in question simply redirect them to a public hospital rather than a private clinic.

If they arrive at the ER of a private facility, “they force them to be moved to a public hospital, even if the patient is in no condition to be moved,” Medina states.

It’s also almost always left up to Spain’s public health system (and eventually Britain's NHS) to foot the bill for these transport costs and any other services that should be paid for by the so-called insurance companies.

According to Medina, the general argument they use is that private Spanish clinics “lack the means, they carry out fraudulent practices and they don’t even have medically qualified staff”.

In Martin Blake’s case, his family ended up paying €24,500 (£22,000) to have him flown over to the UK in an ambulance aircraft.

The Blakes were informed by doctors at one of Lanzarote’s public hospitals in the capital Arrecife that they wouldn’t be able to offer the elderly man the attention he needed, suggesting instead that he be moved to a private clinic on the Canary island or repatriated back to the UK.

But his insurance company, “capable of carrying out a diagnosis from 2,000 kilometres afar” Medina states sarcastically, thought the 72 year old was fine where he was.

“They seemed perfectly happy with the fact that my dad was costing the Spanish health system money,” Blake’s daughter told The Times at the time.

Sadly, Martin Blake passed away two days after his repatriation to the UK.

According to ASPE, every day there are on average one to four Brits who suffer the consequences of these scams while on holiday in Spain, costing Spain’s health system €4,000 per patient, money they never see again.

The same has happened to private clinics where doctors have agreed to treat patients in need, under the pretext that the clinics would be reimbursed by the British insurers.

“This has resulted in the loss of anywhere between €75 and €100 million for Spain’s private health industry,” ASPE secretary general Carlos Rus told El Mundo.

“They're making a killing out of old people, charging them very expensive policies and assuring them that they’ll be covered for pre-existing conditions,” Medina added.

“As they never pay any healthcare costs they’ve seen their profits shoot up, it’s illicit enrichment with total impunity."

The organisation estimates that up to 300,000 Brits travelling abroad every year are being ripped off by paying high prices for "opaque" policies that offer exactly the same medical services as the European Health Card. 

Spain’s Private Health Alliance presented a case against the bogus insurers before Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) last November.

The investigation has reportedly not drawn many conclusive results thus far, but the company that Martin Blake was reportedly insured by is under scrutiny.

European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) currently offer Brits and other EEA citizens free medical treatment (or at a reduced cost) if they urgently need it while visiting another member country.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on October 31 2019, British people's access to healthcare when visiting an EU country is likely to change. 

SEE ALSO: Will Britons resident in Spain still get healthcare after Brexit?

 

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