Whatever the system of payment and insurance, tourist demand on the Balearic health service is rising. | R.L.

Billing by the Balearics health service, IB-Salut, for European tourists without a European Health Insurance Card went up by almost 20% in the first eight months of the year: the total amount was close to 13.8 million euros.

German and British tourists accounted for almost half of these tourists (Germany 25.8% and the UK 24%), followed by Italian (15%) and French (5.4%). In most instances, the treatments needed were for mild complaints.

The health service envisages billing 45.7 million euros: a figure comprising that for tourists without the card and to third parties, e.g. insurers. This will represent a rise of 11.4 million over last year when the total was 34.3 million. Up to end-August, says Manuel Palomino, the secretary general of IB-Salut, the total amount billed was 25.5 million, an increase of over six million euros.

The increase in billing levels is attributed, obviously, to there being more tourists but also to greater control being exercised by health centres. Palomino says that most tourists have insurance that is part of a tour operator package and that they typically go to private health centres.

The situation has, however, changed somewhat since Brussels accepted a demand made by British insurers. Palomino explains that Brussels sent a letter to Spain, with the Canaries and the Balearics being specifically identified, which said that the European Health Insurance Card had to be asked for. Only if the traveller doesn't have one can travel insurance be used.

This has had an impact in that many European tourists are now opting to go to a public health centre rather than to a private one. Palomino suggests that the private health sector hasn't particularly noticed this yet because of an increased number of tourists. It won't be long, however, before it does notice it.

IB-Salut has therefore strengthened its billing operations. If not, the service can end up in effect providing free care and losing money. This billing is being facilitated through a new computer system which is being adopted by all hospitals in the Balearics.

Palomino reckons that the total billing level will be up more next year. If it's 11.4 million more this year, then it will be 13 million in 2017.