25 February 2009
The British have raised the issue that cross-border healthcare will only benefit the few:
All EU citizens, not just the wealthy or well informed, must be able to benefit
Baroness Howarth of Breckland, of the House of Lords’ EU Committee
Is this fear or concern justified?
The whole point of enabling European citizens to have access to healthcare in other EU member states, apart from it being the logical conclusion of substantial ECJ decision-making and rulings, is that it addresses directly improved access to healthcare.
Citizens will be able to seek healthcare anywhere and whenever their own healthcare system is manifestly unable to respond. The UK’s National Health Service lacks a consumer-orientation, so behaves like a massive rigid system whenever it is challenged by patients and their own preferences. This is evidenced most recently by the gyrations over NICE and access to life-saving medicines that are expensive, or the much praised ‘choice’ agenda, something those in other EU states largely take for granted. This may also explain why the UK has had so much trouble getting used to the concept.
Their fears though do point to the importance of ensuring that all member states provide:
1. easily accessed information on EU health providers, presented in a way to facilitate patient decision-making;
2. unambiguous procedures to enable access to healthcare in other countries written in a way that explains how to access the entitlement;
3. defined administrative procedures that enable this entitlement and
4. clearly defined payment, reimbursement methods with transparent costs.
There is no point having a right that you can’t access.
It is also time to see Commission leadership in encouraging service providers to harmonise their information on EU healthcare providers, payment and reimbursement systems, and access procedures. It is also time for commercial and other service entities to emerge to facilitate patient access to care, a sort of cross-border healthcare access broker.
And it is time to stop calling it ‘medical tourism’; this is serious business for the patient.