Holidaymakers travelling to Spain this summer are reportedly at serious risk of harm because of the “possible fraudulent practices” of some UK travel insurers.
Insurers have been accused by the Spanish Association of Private Hospitals of potentially misleading customers by selling cover with emergency medical assistance but not making it clear that policyholders were entitled to treatment only at state-run clinics, The Times reported.
British visitors can already be treated without charge at state-run clinics under European Union rules.
The group said that up to 800 Britons a day have been seeking treatment at private clinics only to discover that their policies, which have medical payout limits of up to £15 million, do not cover the costs.
These policyholders have either to be transferred to a public facility or to pay an average of €4,000 for their treatment.
David Medina, a spokesman for the private hospital group, reportedly said: “We don’t know why this is a British travel insurance question in particular.
“All we know is a few dodgy operators have found a great money-spinner and are taking away business from the majority of British insurance companies that work on the straight and narrow.”
The group added: “These companies are selling healthcare provided by public medical establishments [that] British citizens are already entitled to and for which they [the companies] bear none of the cost.
“This situation places the health of British travellers at serious risk. The insurer forces the private hospital to refer them to a public hospital as soon as possible, sometimes even in cases where a transfer compromises the patient’s health.
“These practices mean high costs both for the Spanish national health system, which must handle a greater volume of patients including those who, in theory, have paid for private care, and for the British National Health Service which must cover the cost of treatment at Spanish public healthcare facilities.”
The group has reported 15 British insurers to the Financial Conduct Authority since 2016 but there has been no official confirmation that action is being taken.
Medina said that British insurers should highlight not only what is included in their policies but also what is excluded.
An investigation by The Times last year found that half of the most popular brands of travel insurance excluded private treatment except in certain circumstances.
Experts have said that the rise of price comparison websites has resulted in a “race to the bottom” in which levels of cover are stripped away allowing policies to be advertised for only a few pounds, according to the newspaper.
Insurers with private hospital exclusions say that their job is to ensure that policyholders get the best possible treatment and that often a public clinic is the best option. They also accuse private hospitals of overcharging.
A spokesman for the FCA said: “We are aware of allegations but we cannot comment further.”
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