Expats get cross border health care rights in Europe

by Ray Clancy on September 5, 2013

Expats in Europe will find it easier to go to their home country for health treatment under a new European Union directive which comes into force next month.

Many people living in Europe are unaware of their rights when it comes to healthcare and the directive aims to clarify the situation.

EU cross border healthcareThe EU Directive on Cross Border Healthcare has been described as ‘the most significant and wide ranging European health legislation in a generation.’

It provides a clear framework for cross border health and how patients can access healthcare. It could mean, for example, that if you are living in one EU member country where you are faced with undue delays in treatment you could travel to another.

‘The directive also clarifies who is responsible for quality and safety of care in cross border settings and it strengthens cooperation in different areas, such as networks of centres of reference for specialised care,’ said an EU spokesman.

‘As a general rule, patients will be allowed to receive healthcare in another member state and be reimbursed up to the level of costs that would have been assumed by the member state of affiliation, if this healthcare had been provided on its territory,’ he added.

Patients being treated abroad will only be able to do so if there is an undue delay, as defined by clinicians, and if the treatment is necessary.

European Union countries have until 25 October to pass their own laws implementing the directive and make arrangements for cross border health care. It covers treatment in both public and private hospitals.

The treatment must also be authorised. Another country is not obliged to accept a patient, but if they refuse they have to explain why. Local waiting times and individual country guidance will still exist.

In the UK, for example, the National Health Service (NHS) has set up two routes for patients to apply for funding for cross border care. There will be a direct arrangement between the NHS and the health authority of the country where care is being sought.

A key issue is payment, under the new directive a patient would pay for treatment abroad, then apply for a reimbursement on their return to the country where they live and are registered for healthcare. Travel and living costs will not be reimbursed.

The cross border deal applies anywhere within the free trade European Economic Area (EEA) which includes Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

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