3 July 2008
Resistance is futile, say some, but the spread of Community protection for European health has taken an important step forward.
Some countries will be dismayed, others relieved. Dismay in some because prideful to the end they cannot image the likely exodus of their patients to more congenial and responsive health systems and relief in others as the logic of a European health system, sharing scarce resources and providing a world-standard of healthcare is finally on the horizon.
Is it just medical tourism? I think not. Member states characterise it this way as though people shop around for a knee operation the way they might price a pair of shoes. Healthcare matters to people and perhaps matters more than it does to governments who oversee health systems. It is people who have the personal relationship with health professionals and have the needs for treatment. For some governments, that people is what healthcare systems are about is a novel concept.
The willingness of people to seek healthcare in another country, unfamiliar, different language and culture, is stark testimony in many cases to the intransigence and bureaucratic bully-boy tactics of state-run health systems, more to ensure control than facilitate treatment.
Smaller member states perhaps understand this better as it is economic madness for them to try to run a comprehensive healthcare system for all possible demands, and instead work with other countries to pool resources. Larger states, more congested with pride, will swallow the new cross-border paradigm with great difficulty and argue that economics (it is usually economics, too) will just make it not possible for them to afford this.
This is, of course, nonsense and posturing. For a country not to reimburse a person for treatment in another country is just evidence that they would not pay for that person to be treated at home — but they would never say that. Rather, cross-border patient movement is evidence of dissatisfaction with care, or inability to be treated because of administrative procedures and delay — and they would never admit that, either.
The proposed way forward is clear, the identified goals worthy and the challenges the right ones (data protection, quality standards, patient rights) to achieve these goals.