Many UK residents enjoy taking holidays in the U.S. Unfortunately, a medical emergency may prevent them from relaxing. An unexpected health situation should be treated immediately, which means that UK residents on holiday may need to seek medical treatment in the U.S. Without health insurance that covers treatment on American soil, they may be left with a large medical bill.
If the individual returns to the UK without paying the bill, what happens to it? The medical facility in the U.S. cannot legally prevent the patient from returning the U.K. unless it felt the cause for treatment was fraudulent. What it can do is get a U.S. court to issue a judgment in absentia. With this in place, the former patient would need to repay the bill upon entering the U.S. in the future. The medical provider can also contract with a UK collection agency to recoup the money it is owed. However, hospitals and other medical providers do not typically do this unless the debt is substantial.
If UK residents find themselves receiving calls and letters from a debt collector due to unpaid U.S. medical bills, they should proceed carefully. Debt collectors do not have the same power as bailiffs. They may only call, write, or pay visits to the home to discuss repayment of the debt. Debt collectors engaging in harassing behavior should be reported to the local trading standards department or Financial Ombudsman Service.
The individual who incurred the debt should request written documentation regarding the balance due. He or she should then try to work out a reduced repayment or installment payments with the collection agency. If the collection agency refuses to negotiate, the debtor has a right to contact the medical provider directly to discuss the issue.
In some situations, the National Health Service (NHS) sends patients abroad to receive advanced treatments in the U.S. The healthcare system has been known to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a patient to receive treatment for a condition like a brain tumor. In this case, medical debt incurred by the family is little to nothing because the treatment is preauthorized by the NHS. This illustrates that the idea of the NHS rationing treatment may be false.[doyouneed01]
However, the situation is quite different for those who cannot use their medical insurance while visiting the U.S. Though the UK offers a European Health Insurance Card for travelers to Switzerland and the European Economic Area (EEA) and reciprocal healthcare agreements with several non-EEA territories and countries, it does not have an agreement with the U.S. Therefore, UK residents are responsible for the total cost of medical treatment received in the U.S.
By definition, an emergency is an unexpected situation. A medical emergency is not something that can go unaddressed. UK residents on holiday in the U.S. should have emergency medical procedures performed in America and pay the resulting bills promptly. If they do not, the bills can follow them back to the UK or come to the surface when they re-enter the U.S.