US tourist is shocked by her medical bill after requiring emergency treatment in Spain

FOR residents of countries such as Spain or the UK, where universal free healthcare is a fact of life, it can be easy to take for granted the privileges of such a system. 

It’s useful, then, to consider the experiences of Americans when in Europe, given that they are often shocked – and pleasantly surprised – by what they do and don’t have to pay for when seeking medical treatment. 

That was exactly what happened to Erica Jackson Curran, a freelance writer from the US who is now living in France with her husband and their son. 

Writing in the Huffpost, she recounted how she recently found herself on vacation in Spain with a pounding head after having slammed it into the bottom of a metal hotel safe.

Read more: Britain is no longer attractive to health workers from Spain: Nurses blast post-Brexit rules and worsening conditions

Doctors warn about 'collapse' of hospital emergency units in Spain due to increased demand
Erica was only charged €200 for her ER visit. Image: fernando zhiminaicela on Pixabay

“The pain and pressure had been keeping me up at night, along with the anxiety that came from Googling my symptoms,” she explains. 

After being advised by a Spanish doctor over a chat service to seek medical help to rule out a brain injury, she headed to the nearest emergency room. 

On arrival she was advised by the English-speaking receptionist that she would have to pay out of pocket for her consultation, but would later be reimbursed by her travel insurance company. 

“I braced myself, thinking back to past experiences in American hospitals,” she writes. “The ER visit for chest pains that came with a $2,500 surprise bill a few months later. The breast biopsy, where I was forced to pay nearly $3,000 for the privilege of finding out whether or not the lump in my breast was cancerous.”

And all of that, she explains, on top of her $12,000 annual family premium. 

But in the end she was shocked to find that she was going to be charged just a €200 flat fee for her ER visit. 

The doctor who saw her also sent her for a CT scan, and prescribed her a common Spanish painkiller after concluding that there was no brain damage, and the headaches were likely just anxiety and tension. 

“Checking out at the front desk, I braced myself for the grand total, knowing from bitter experience that a CT scan can cost thousands of dollars in the U.S.,” she writes. “I was pleasantly surprised when the receptionist told me that the final tally for my ER visit was €729.”

Erica adds that she was ‘overwhelmed with relief’ at the final total, and was also ‘comforted’ to know she would get the money back from her insurer. 

“I also felt sad and frustrated thinking about the extreme shortcomings of our healthcare system in the U.S. – how even a basic doctor’s visit comes with the worry of not knowing how much you’ll have to pay to get the care you need,” she adds. 

“Far too often, Americans must choose between prioritising their health or financial stability,” she concludes.

Something that those of us lucky enough to live in Spain do not, fortunately, have to do. 

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