Sunday

26th Sep 2021

Small print: Do EU travellers get virus insurance?

  • Microscope image of human lung with early pneumonia (Photo: Yale Rosen)

EU nationals who get sick from coronavirus while abroad cannot automatically count on their health costs being paid back, Europe's insurance firms have said.

The cost of testing and treatment for symptoms, such as pneumonia, can cost more than €32,000 in the US for instance.

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And it could climb much higher if the patient needed intensive care or extended hospitalisation.

The Biblical scale of the pandemic has left tens of thousands of Europeans stranded following border closures around the world.

But when asked by EUobserver if travel insurance firms could get out of paying for healthcare costs by saying the events were an "act of God" - an industry term for an unforeseeable natural disaster - the European insurance federation did not rule it out.

"Circumstances differ greatly between EU countries - and between companies within each national market - in terms of the types of policies offered and the wordings of those policies," Insurance Europe said in a statement.

"Customers are advised to read their contracts and contact their insurers or insurance intermediaries should they have any questions," it told this website.

"In most countries, it will depend on the small print in the terms and conditions of health insurance contracts," a spokesman for Beuc, a pro-consumer NGO in Brussels, also said.

Insurance Europe, which has 35 staff in the EU capital, represents firms and their federations from 37 European countries, including most EU states.

Insurers will find it "progressively difficult ... in the immediate future" to "protect employees and customers" from events, the sector's EU regulator warned last week.

The industry had deep pockets, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (Eiopa) in Frankfurt also noted.

"Stress tests have shown that the sector is well capitalised and able to withhold severe but plausible shocks," it said.

And the European Commission has proposed a €37bn virus fund to protect the European economy.

But EU institutions have said little on individuals' health liabilities overseas.

Eiopa has published three memos on coronavirus, but none of them mentioned coverage of travellers.

When EUobserver asked the commission if EU nationals could, one way or another, count on getting their costs back, it said it had no role to play in the matter.

That "depended" on "agreements with non-EU countries" and these were "up to individual member states", a commission spokeswoman said.

Some EU countries have published national guidelines, but these contained further small print.

"Medical costs of coronavirus abroad: Reimbursement from the basic insurance up to the Dutch rate. Additional costs possibly," Dutch consumer body Consumtenbond, for instance, said.

EU diaspora

There were some 80,000 EU nationals seeking help to get home from overseas amid worldwide border closures, the EU commission recently estimated.

That number was "changing quickly", EU officials said on Friday (20 March).

It was going down as some travellers got home, but it was going up again as other people declared themselves stuck.

Meanwhile, for EU nationals who needed treatment while visiting other member states, the European Health Insurance Card gave basic cover, the commission noted.

But the EU card also had terms and conditions.

It did "not guarantee free services. As each country's healthcare system is different, services that cost nothing at home might not be free in another country", the card blurb said.

The EU card covered British nationals during the Brexit transition period, British consumer affairs magazine Which? noted.

"Coronavirus is not deadly to everyone who catches it, but if you do pass away abroad, your travel insurance policy should cover the repatriation of your remains," the magazine also said.

Privacy issues arise as governments track virus

Governments are attempting to track the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across Europe using mobile phone data. When it comes to data protection, exceptions are allowed in times of crisis but must be limited in time and scope, critics warn.

Not easy getting 80,000 EU citizens home

Returning home has become complicated for many EU citizens - both inside and outside the bloc -as the number of travel and entry restrictions keeps growing globally in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

EU to unveil summer holiday plans amid Schengen fears

The European Commission is set to announce a three-phase approach on Wednesday to gradually reopen internal borders. However, concerns over how the principle of free movement in the EU will be affected is growing - as countries announce different approaches.

Investigation

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In September 2020, the EU Commission's top vaccine negotiator made a pledge - doses would cost between €5 and €15, Sandra Gallina assured MEPs. Little did she know that her fixed cap would crumble under pressure from jabmakers.

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