Expatica news

EU calls for healthcare without borders

2 July 2008

BRUSSELS – European Union citizens should be able to go to a doctor, dentist or optician anywhere in the bloc without having to get permission at home first, officials in Brussels said Wednesday.

And the patient’s national health service should not only provide information on medical systems elsewhere in the EU, it should even pay for the treatment received, as long as would have paid for it to be done at home, a legal proposal from the European Commission ran.

"Patients prefer to be treated as close to home as possible, and in the vast majority of cases that can be done within their own country," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said as she presented the legal proposal.

"But sometimes the care that people seek can best be provided in another EU country, such as in border regions or particularly specialised treatment," she said.

At present, EU citizens have the right to receive emergency medical treatment in any member state. They can also plan to have treatment in another EU country if their home system cannot provide it soon enough, or if it gives them specific permission to do so.

But if Wednesday’s proposal is adopted by EU member states, their citizens will be able to travel to any other EU state to receive treatment without prior permission, and then claim back the money that their own health service would have paid for the treatment.

The proposal "ensures clear rights and rules for those individuals who need to travel for their health care," Vassiliou said.

The proposal is the commission’s response to a string of European Court rulings that the right to seek medical care abroad is an integral part of the EU’s right to free movement.

However, in deference to member states’ sensitivities, it does not simply permit blanket state-supported medical travel.

Firstly, member states will only have to pay for treatments which they would have subsidised at home. This clause protects both states which were afraid of seeing their health-care costs rise, and those who were afraid that they might have to end up paying for procedures they do not accept at home, such as abortion.

Secondly, the patient seeking the treatment abroad will have to pay for it up front. While the simplest way to handle payments in terms of administration, critics warn that this clause could make it impossible for the poorest citizens to get treatment.

Thirdly, the legal proposal allows member states to reintroduce the system of prior authorisations if they prove that their hospital system is at risk from a sudden flood of patients going abroad and claiming on treatment at home.

However, only a "small proportion" of citizens are likely to travel abroad to seek care, Vassiliou said.

Figures released ahead of Wednesday’s proposals revealed that 4 percent of EU citizens had had medical treatment of any kind in a different member state in 2007, while just 1 percent of the money Europeans spend on healthcare is spent outside their homeland.

[dpa / Expatica]