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Cross-border healthcare ruling for Europe

The European Parliament has passed a directive allowing EU residents to seek healthcare treatment in any of the 27 member states

The European Parliament has passed the Cross-border Health Care Directive, which will allow EU residents to seek healthcare treatment in any of the 27 member states, from 2013. The cost of the treatment will be reimbursed by the health service in the patient's home country.

The directive will benefit patients on long waiting lists or with a rare condition requiring specialist treatment. It may also help those patients who live in border regions, where the nearest hospital may be in a different country. Additionally, patients will be able to choose to be treated in the country near to where they work, or near to where their relatives may live.

A number of measures are in place to prevent 'health tourism', including only reimbursing patients at the rates charged in their home country, meaning patients will have to pay the difference if they choose to have treatment at a higher cost in a different country. Patients will only be reimbursed for the types of treatment that they would be entitled to in their own country. Patients may also be required to seek 'prior authorisation' for treatments requiring overnight hospital stays or specialised healthcare. 

French MEP Françoise Grossetête, who led discussions in Parliament, said: "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."

As part of the legislation, each country must establish a 'contact point' to provide information to patients considering seeking treatment abroad. These contact points will also provide assistance if problems occur.

Data from the EU executive, calculates that member states currently spend 1 per cent (around €10bn) of overall public health spending on cross-border healthcare. It is not anticipated that the cost increase rate following this new legislation will exceed €30m per year.

20th January 2011

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