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After two and a half years of negotiations, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU Member States have finally agreed a law intended to enhance EU citizens’ rights to access health care in another EU country.

Because patients prefer to receive healthcare in their own country, only around 1% (around €10 billion) of public spending on healthcare in Europe goes on cross-border healthcare.

Welcoming the Directive, EU Health Commissioner, John Dalli, said: “Generally speaking, people prefer to receive their healthcare closer to home. No-one wants to travel further than necessary when they are sick. However, sometimes the need for certain treatment leads patients to go abroad.”

The EU Directive on Patients’ Rights in Cross-border Health Care introduces the following new rules:

  • For non-hospital care, patients will be able to seek healthcare abroad without prior authorisation or formalities, and claim reimbursement upon their return home.
  • Patients will be reimbursed the same amount as they would receive in their own country for the same type of healthcare. (Member States where care is free of charge will need to inform patients about their reimbursement tariffs.)
  • For both hospital and non-hospital care, patients will have access to information on the quality and safety of the care they will receive.

ESN had expressed concerns about continuity of care not only between health systems, but also across the health and social care divide. Increasingly short stays in hospital by patients can require additional social support to achieve successful outcomes, without which later readmission can too often occur – this is particularly important for older people and those with complex conditions.

The directive requires the country of treatment to “ensure that patients have access to their written or electronic medical records related to the treatment they received. The home country will ensure the medical follow-up is of the same quality regardless of where in the EU the treatment took place.” (Frequently Asked Questions)

National governments now have two and a half years to integrate these measures into national legislation. They need to ensure that administrative procedures on the use of cross-border healthcare and on reimbursement of costs are in place, including complaint procedures. At national level, Member States will establish national contact points that provide information to patients.

Find out more on the European Commission website.