The EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare is making it's way through the labyrinth of British government. Slow progress, but it's progress towards a European market in healthcare.
The House of Lords EU Committee have welcomed the proposal from the European Commission for a Directive on patients' rights to cross-border healthcare. The Committee has called for improvements and has warned that, due to the unpredictable impact of the provisions in the Directive, it must be carefully monitored upon implementation.
The Committee has agreed 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 ten years, it is essential to put in place a legal framework to replace the current ad hoc arrangements.
The Committee also considered whether patients seeking healthcare in other European Member States should pay the costs themselves in advance of treatment and then claim reimbursement later. They have raised concerns that this would prevent those without adequate financial means from taking advantage of their right to cross-border healthcare. The Committee's report 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, which the Committee considers necessary both in order to protect the financial resources of health systems and to enable patients to make informed decisions about their treatment.
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. Member States should finance information for its own citizens about healthcare abroad and should draw up a description of its own health system to guide other Member States. Acknowledging that it may fall to medical practitioners, such as GPs and dentists, to actually provide the information to patients, the Committee argue that the Directive should avoid the imposition of any administrative burden on healthcare professionals.
The Committee have also called for greater clarity on systems of redress when patients are dissatisfied with, or harmed by, healthcare provided in another Member State.
The Committee welcome the Directive's provision that a Member State would be able to refuse to accept a patient from another Member State if, for example, this would increase waiting times for treatment. Nevertheless, they recommend that this part of the Directive would benefit from some strengthening.
Finally, the Committee emphasise that the impact of the Directive will only be clear once it has been implemented, and so recommend that it be reviewed within three years, rather than five as proposed by the Commission.
The Committee's 57 page report can be downloaded from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldeucom/30/9780104014356.pdf