The House of Lords European Union (EU) Committee yesterday (24 February 2009) welcomed a proposal from the European Commission for a directive on patients' rights to crossborder healthcare, but called for improvements and warned that, due to the unpredictable impact of the provisions in the directive, it must be carefully monitored upon implementation.
The Committee agree with the Commission that, as the right of EU citizens to travel to another member state to receive healthcare has been confirmed by the European Court of Justice over the last 10 years, it is essential to put in place a legal framework to replace the current ad hoc arrangements.
The Committee has raised concerns over whether patients seeking healthcare in other member states should pay the costs themselves in advance of treatment and then claim reimbursement later. The Committee fears that this would prevent those without adequate financial means from taking advantage of their right to crossborder healthcare.
In a new report, the EU Committee recommends that a patient's own healthcare provider should pay the fees directly to the provider in the other member state, and suggests that this could be linked with the process of securing authorisation prior to travel.
The report also calls on member states to ensure that patients are aware of their rights under the directive and are informed about the quality of care that they can expect, any potential language barriers, and how to make a complaint should that be necessary.
Acknowledging that it may fall to GPs to provide the information to patients, the committee argues that the directive should avoid the imposition of any administrative burden on healthcare professionals.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Social Policy and Consumer Affairs, said: "We are pleased that the European Commission is proposing to give patients across the EU clear guidance on their right to crossborder healthcare.
"The current ad hoc arrangements are unsatisfactory and clear new rules are essential. Most patients will still want to be treated locally but everyone will at least have the opportunity to seek healthcare abroad, and to do so in possession of detailed information on what they can expect at each stage of the process.
"All EU citizens, not just the wealthy or well informed, must be able to benefit. We therefore recommend that patients should not have to pay for their treatment upfront and that member states should be responsible for informing their citizens of the options open to them for crossborder healthcare."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Any clarity in treating overseas visitors is to be welcomed, whether they are from the EU or not. There are too many grey areas leading the GP practice into difficult decisions with little hard information upon which to rely" – Name and address withheld