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8.5 Million Uninsured Holidaymakers Face Paying Thousands In Medical Bills

Travellers who go abroad without travel insurance cover could face hospital bills of tens of thousands of pounds this summer. Thailand, USA and Canada are most expensive countries for medical treatment on holiday. Misunderstood EHIC could mean a shock to Brits on holiday this summer.

Bupa has analysed its insurance claims data to highlight the potentially high costs of requiring medical attention abroad which may be faced by the 8.5 million people a year who go on holiday without travel insurance. Looking at the average amount paid out for medical treatment in popular holiday destinations since 2008, Bupa found that Thailand, the USA and Canada are the most expensive countries in which to get sick or injured.

For example, treatment for British tourists suffering a heart attack in the USA cost £32,400 per person, on average. Even common injuries and illnesses could cost an uninsured holidaymaker hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds. Bupa paid an average of £1,725 to Mexican hospitals to treat each case of gastroenteritis contracted by its customers, and an average £1,240 for sprains and strains sustained in the USA.

Treatment in European countries can also be costly if tourists are not insured – and may come as a shock to those who fail to understand the limitations of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Bupa paid an average £634 for treatment in France for customers with chickenpox. Heart attacks suffered on holiday in Spain cost an average £9,291. Many Brits may think their medical treatment costs are covered by having a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Nearly one in four people who travel without insurance (24%) said they don’t bother taking out cover because they have an EHIC, yet only a quarter of people were correctly able to identify what the EHIC covers them for. The EHIC allows Brits to pay the same price for medical treatment as the locals in European countries – but this does not always mean that treatment is free. Nearly half of Brits (44%) believe that having an EHIC means the NHS picks up the bill for treatment needed on holiday.

Dr Tim Woodman, medical director, Bupa Health Funding comments, "Few of us go on holiday expecting to get ill or injured, but it does happen, and could cost you a small fortune in hospital bills if you don’t have adequate cover. Even common illnesses or injuries can be expensive to treat, so travelling uninsured is not a risk worth taking."

Dr Tim Woodman’s advice for staying well on holiday this summer

1. If you’re travelling to Europe, make sure your EHIC hasn’t expired and that you understand its limitations. 2. Find out if you need any vaccinations for where you’re going. Arrange to see a nurse or travel clinic six to eight weeks before you go. 3. Check if malaria is present at your destination and get anti-malarial tablets if you need them. 4. Stay safe in the sun: I can’t stress this enough! Slap on the sunscreen, keep hydrated and stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day. 5. Make sure you always pack your existing medication and carry extra for emergencies. For example, if you have asthma, pack one inhaler in your hand luggage and a spare in your hold luggage. Many countries require a doctor's letter or copy of your prescription confirming that these medications have been issued for you. Some countries have very strict rules on drugs that can be brought in, even if you bought them over the counter in the UK, with severe penalties.

As a leading international healthcare insurance group, Bupa offers health insurance and medical subscription products, runs care homes, retirement villages, hospitals, primary care centres and dental clinics. Bupa also provides workplace health services, home healthcare, health assessments and long-term condition management services. With over 22 million customers in 190 countries, Bupa employs more than 70,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, New Zealand and Chile, as well as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, and the USA. 

Notes: Claims data from Bupa Travel Insurance claims 01/01/2008 to 31/05/2014. Opinion polling was conducted online in July 2014 by Atomik research. 2,012 UK adults took part. Claims data may include treatment at private facilities.

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