“I don’t think I’ll ever leave the country again.”

A Cork woman advises vacationers to rely on European health insurance cards instead of expensive travel insurance after concerns that her partner’s €20,000 hospital bill will not be covered.

Kate Durant says the stress of the experience made her and her partner reluctant to go abroad again for vacation.

Mr. Durant obtained a comprehensive travel insurance policy through her travel agent, before going to Palma for a two-week vacation at the end of September.

Lynch, who is photographer with his partner Kate Durant, became very ill on vacation.
Lynch, who is photographer with his partner Kate Durant, became very ill on vacation.

The 53-year-old, who lives in Blarney with partner PJ Lynch, 71, said she wanted complete peace of mind on her vacation.

“I was very careful to make sure we get the all-important travel insurance, get a medical extension and call them carefully to list his ailments; you pay for cheap vacation insurance alone, but we at this age, which is medically too weak, you can’t take the risk.”

After three days in Palma, BJ became very ill and needed an ambulance. The driver asked Durant if they had cover, so they went to a private hospital called Quirónsalud.

She said the majority of the people in the hospital were tourists in similar situations, and it seemed like the hospital you should go to if you had travel insurance.

“There was a man walking around in the hospital after his wife fell and was in intensive care for weeks and I think the cost per week is €60,000, and this poor 86-year-old was walking around unsure if the bill would be covered or not.”

intensive care

PJ was later diagnosed with sepsis and required urgent intensive care, which Durant said saved his life.

After the hospital advised her to contact her insurance company, Ms Durant initially felt comfortable after the call being offered a hotel to stay in, but she declined.

However, she said that feeling of relief evaporated once she realized that they did not request a medical report from PJ’s doctor until day 11, and in doing so sent the request to the completely wrong doctor.

Ms Durant said she was then subjected to annoying and constant phone calls, emails and delays.

While the claim was being discussed, the hospital bill – over €600 per night – was escalating and Durant didn’t know if the insurance company would cover the cost.

“We have European health insurance cards, and real life would have been much simpler if we had used it because we would have had very good treatment in a public hospital without any stress.

“I just assumed that if you were honest and did it as correctly as you could, you would be covered,” she said.

“With anyone with complex medical issues, the way I feel at the moment, I don’t think I’m leaving the country because the experience was so stressful that there was no vacation,” she said.

Although PJ contracted sepsis, the insurance company questioned the fact that he had had his kidney removed more than three decades ago. Then they began to question the fact that he had a catheter. Then they wondered about a heart condition that Durant said he did not have.

It looks like they’ll keep going until they find a reason not to pay for a legitimate claim.

Ms. Durant booked repatriation flights without the medical assistance they needed on board and was due to pay half the bill before leaving the hospital because they could not leave without doing so.

“They were supposed to bring him home – and eventually – we came home on our own because all the time they were fighting to pay the claim, which lasted for about eight or nine days, they didn’t even begin to make the repatriation arrangements.”

PJ was still in the hospital eight days after being given clearance to go home, due to the fact that the claim had not been resolved.

Finally, 20 hours before they were due to leave the hospital, the insurance company paid the bill, which amounted to 20,000 euros.

Ms Durant said the experience made her realize how vulnerable you can be when you are outside in a medical emergency.

Speaking of Mapfre, the insurers that handled PJ’s claim, Ms Durant said: “They have to remember they are not dealing with potatoes, coal lumps or commodities. We are not stock and stock to be sold and made money from.

They deal with people’s lives.

“I called to make sure it was covered and given every medical condition and we were still let down by people who should have been in our corner when we needed them but instead made our very poor situation worse.”

“He will never leave the country again,” she said.

The insurance company’s response:

A spokesperson for Mapfre said they could not comment on individual cases but added: “As a responsible travel insurance provider, we have to follow specific and well-defined processes in handling any claims for emergency medical assistance.

“There is often a need to engage with multiple GPs, hospitals and other stakeholders throughout the assistance process, which can make it more complex. We always aim to manage communications of this kind as quickly as possible.”

McCarthy’s Insurance Group CEO, Paul Kavanagh, said he’s heard many stories similar to Ms. Durant’s.

He described travel insurance as a “luxury,” the insurance that McCarthy Insurance Group stopped providing at the start of the pandemic due to uncertainty.

Travel insurance can be added to cover “emergency matters” but should never be used to cover essentials such as healthcare, Kavanaugh said.

“Once you have your European health card, you can go to any hospital in Europe,” he said, before adding that those with private health insurance can access any hospital in the world while abroad.

Experts say travel insurance should not be used to cover essentials such as healthcare.
Experts say travel insurance should not be used to cover essentials such as healthcare.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare while temporarily residing in the European Union or the European Economic Area.

Among Irish Life Health, VHI and Laya, the cheapest private health insurance plans cover €55,000 to €100,000 for emergency hospitalizations abroad and €1 million to €2 million for repatriation costs.

“What’s going to happen? Your luggage will go astray? We’ve seen it happen in Dublin, Schiphol and Heathrow, and people never get their bags back. If that’s what you want to cover, that’s the purpose of the travel insurance in my book,” Kavanagh said.

“I wouldn’t rely on him for my medical care,” he said, adding that his first port of call in the event of a medical emergency abroad would be his EHIC.

Mr Kavanagh said those without private health insurance or EHIC have little or no choice but to look for travel insurance. However, urge those in this group to buy a premium cover. “It’s not a 15-euro policy,” he said.

750 complaints since 2019

The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) said it has received 91 complaints this year so far – and 750 since 2019 – related to travel insurance.

The most common reason for complaints is the wording of the terms and conditions of the policies which leads to misunderstandings among policyholders and thus the denial of claims.

Better clarity of wording in travel insurance policies would lead to fewer complaints, said Mary Rose McGovern, Financial and Pensions Services Ombudsman (Acting).

The FSPO has previously highlighted that wording clarity in insurance policies can be improved. Consumers looking to purchase a policy appropriate to their needs should not have to struggle to understand the terms and conditions of the policy.

“Insurers must therefore ensure that these terms and conditions are understandable and as easy as possible for their customers to understand,” she said.

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