Clearer rules on seeking healthcare in Europe

20 Jan 2011

European Parliament votes in favour of the Directive on Patients' Rights in Cross-border Healthcare

MEPs on Wednesday approved a new EU law setting out patients' rights to seek medical care in another EU country. The legislation clarifies the rules for reimbursement, including when advance authorisation may be required.

Françoise Grossetête, who led discussions in Parliament, commented: "Patients will no longer be left to their own devices when they seek cross border healthcare and reimbursement. This directive will at last clear up patients' rights because until now they have been very vague."

The new rules clarify that EU citizens can be reimbursed for healthcare they receive in another Member State, as long as the type of treatment and costs would have normally been covered in their own country.

Authorities may require that patients seek 'prior authorisation' for treatments requiring overnight hospital stays or specialised healthcare. On the insistence of MEPs, any refusal will need to be justified according to a restricted list of possible reasons, which includes certain risks to the patient or general public.

Each country must establish a 'contact point' to provide information to patients considering seeking treatment abroad. Contact points will also provide assistance if problems occur.

Seeking healthcare abroad could particularly benefit patients on long waiting lists, or those unable to find specialist attention. MEPs strengthened provisions for cooperation on rare diseases, since awareness can be low and experts are often few and far between.

As a general rule, most patients prefer to receive treatment close to home. Currently, 1% of Member States' health budgets are spent on crossborder healthcare.

The rules concern only to those who choose to seek treatment abroad. The European Health Insurance Card scheme will continue to apply for citizens who require urgent treatment when visiting another EU country.

John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy on the EU Directive on Patients' Rights in Cross-border Healthcare said: "Today's vote marks an important step forward for all patients in Europe. I congratulate and thank the Rapporteur, Mrs Grossetete, for all her work.

"The Directive will benefit patients across Europe by clarifying their rights to access safe and good quality treatment across EU borders, and be reimbursed for it.

"Generally speaking, people prefer to receive their healthcare closer to home. No one wants to travel further than necessary when they are sick. However, sometimes the need for certain treatment leads patients to go abroad. Another reason could simply be that the nearest hospital lies across a border.

In addition to providing a clear and coherent set of rules on cross-border healthcare, this Directive will benefit patients in several other ways. It will help patients who need specialised treatment, for example those who are seeking a diagnosis or treatment for a rare disease. It will bring about closer and improved health cooperation, including the recognition of prescriptions, between Member States. Health experts across Europe will be able to exchange best practices and mutually benefit from innovations in health technology assessment and eHealth I look forward to a swift implementation of this Directive by the Member States".

Source: European Parliament

Watch John Dalli, on, talking about cross border healthcare as a necessity for cancer patients.