Parliament backs EU Directive clarifying rules for cross-border healthcare

The Parliament has approved at its Plenary session on 19 January the text of a new directive which clarifies the rights of patients wishing to receive care in a member state different that their country of origin. This directive sets the conditions for reimbursement of the treatment carried out abroad and establishes a system for prior authorization in certain cases. Member states will have two and half years to transpose the directive.

MEPs approved by a large majority the text agreed with the Council in relation to the directive allowing patients from any member states to obtain health care in an EU country different than their country of origin, as it was proposed by the Commission in 2008 within the framework of the Renewed Social Agenda. This new rules aim to clarify these rights which were somewhat fuzzy until this moment.

Under the new provision, as a general rule, the country of affiliation, which is the one in which the patient resides, will have to cope with the costs which would have been paid in its territory for this same treatment. Should there be a difference price, they will have to be defrayed by the patient.

However, national authorities may require prior authorization when patients need hospitalization at least one night or in the case of specialized treatment, If this authorization is denied, national authorities will have to justify the reasons for it. Health authorities will have the possibility to justify a rejection based on some of the reasons set out in a list put forward in the directive, a list which does not include as a reason the existence of waiting lists.

Free movement also effective for patients, and "health tourism" prevention

Based on this directive, patients may seek treatment in another EU country, counting upon a network on national contact points to provide them with all the necessary information. These rules will benefit situations such as patients on waiting lists or those who have no specialized treatment in their country of origin.

The directive also proposes to strengthen cooperation between Member States in the diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases for whom the European Commission proposed has committed to fight in the framework of its strategy for these diseases which affect a significant number of citizens.

The text adopted by the Parliament will then have to count upon the formal approval of the Council and, once this process has been met and published in the EU Official Journal, Member States will have a period of two and a half years to transpose the directive.