European citizens, no matter where they live, have the right to choose where to receive medical treatment across the EU, and to be reimbursed for it. This right is now spelled out in the Directive on Cross-Border Healthcare pdfwhich enters into force in the whole European Union on 25 October 2013.
Under present EU laws, citizens benefit from their own countries national social security scheme if they fall sick while travelling in another Member State. However, for planned cross-border care, a Member State can require that patients first apply for prior authorisation and the Member State is only compelled to grant the authorisation, if patients cannot be treated at home within a time limit considered medically justified.
The new Directive introduces three major changes focusing on patients’ rights:
Firstly, citizens have the right to choose and be reimbursed for treatment, either public health care or private health care, anywhere in the EU.
Secondly, prior authorisations for cross-border healthcare will become the exception rather than the rule.
Finally, citizens have the right to make informed decisions about treatment options. They are, therefore entitled to receive any relevant information from national contact points, established under the new Directive, and information from health care and treatment providers directly.
In order to increase transparency on quality and safety standards across the EU, the Directive advocates mutual assistance and cooperation between Member States in particular on the interoperability of eHealth tools and the use of health technology assessment. It also facilitates the recognition of prescriptions for medical products in every Member State.
Eventually, the Directive will provide for the development of European reference networks, to encourage the pooling of knowledge and maximise the cost effective use of resources in highly specialized healthcare, such as the diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases.
This new law marks a real breakthrough for European citizens: not only will European citizens able to take more control over their own health care, this will in turn help patients associations promote higher quality and safety of care. This can only have a beneficial effect on our healthcare systems.