Insurers slam medical tourism overpricing

27th Oct 2006

Thousands of holiday makers are at risk of being ripped off every year when they receive medical treatment abroad. UK travel insurers, Europ Assistance, receives countless bills from holidaymakers in countries such as Bulgaria, The Dominican Republic, Greece and Spain where medical treatment costs can escalate to double or triple what they could be.

Reports of overcharging have been rife this year and in some instances there have even been allegations of diagnosing non-existent injuries. Such conduct can cost insurance companies and in certain circumstances, travellers millions of pounds each year.

One of Europ Assistance’s strategies moving forward is to take a firm stance against such practices. The Group’s International Medical Committee regularly audits clinics and hospitals in “tourist destinations” and countries that lack adequate medical facilities.  In addition, it has a team of cost containment agents worldwide and an in-house Claims Control team which closely monitor invoices received.  Europ Assistance’s specialist staff are available 24 hours a day to liaise with clinic and hospital staff worldwide.

“Europ Assistance gives clear advice and support to its clients or their relatives who whilst in unfamiliar territory may feel intimidated and worried into accepting or authorising treatment in tourist clinics abroad,” says Charles Walckenaer, Managing Director, Europ Assistance UK.

“It is always a concern when you or a family member falls ill on holiday and even worse when you feel that you can’t trust those who are there to care for you. We act on the customers’ behalf, therefore minimising their stress which allows them to concentrate on getting better!”


Top Tips on receiving treatment abroad:

Tourist clinics are as reliant on having a full quota of clients as hotels, airlines or tour operators and when times are quiet the shortfall must be made up.  This can result in outpatient centres and / or private clinics carrying out unnecessary tests, overtreating and overcharging, some examples of which are:-     

X-Rays when no medical necessity

Blood tests for minor sprains or grazes

Use of general anasthetics which may not only be unnecessary but also dangerous in certain circumstances. Particularly without the insured’s knowledge or consent or carried out without reference to medical history      
Long distance transfer of patients from one end of an island to another, to continue to have a patient interred in one of their own clinics

Use of expensive ambulances for transfers in minor cases

Application of US style price lists in countries such as, but not restricted to Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, Greek Islands, India, Spanish Islands, Sri Lanka & Thailand.  Be especially wary in islands or regions / countries which have a high dependence on “seasonal tourism” eg Corfu, Ibiza, Malta and such like

Doctor’s visits for no reason other than to return insurance papers that had been taken back to the clinic to be photocopied when this could have been done at the time at the hotel

Expensive night or weekend visits which were necessary only because of the tourist Doctors own workloads

More than three genuine return outpatient visits

Multiple injections for such ailments/conditions as mosquito bites
Best advice for customers is :
Always ASK what treatment is planned and WHY if additional tests, scans and / or surgery are suggested if the reasons are not understood for one or more of these

Always ask why a general anaesthetic is necessary if that is their intention and the reason is not understood.

“If in any doubt customers should contact our 24 hour Emergency Assistance helpline and ask to speak to one of the Medical Team. Reassuring worried policyholders is a small but very important part of our service and is one reason why Europ Assistance is available on hand 24/7 every day of the year,” concludes Walckenaer.



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