EU cross-border healthcare ‘must be better managed’

5 Jun 19

Inadequate management is denying Europeans the full benefits of the EU’s cross-border healthcare directive, EU auditors have said.

The European Court of Auditors have highlighted seven-year delays in the implementation of health data sharing and uncertainties over whether networks for rare disease patients are financially sustainable, in a report published yesterday.

The EU’s 2011 cross-border healthcare directive aims to guarantee citizens access to healthcare across national borders within the EU. It allows patients to claim reimbursement at home for any treatment received abroad they are entitled to in their member state of residence.

The directive mainly applies to pre-arranged healthcare, as it does not cover “needs-arising” treatment received during temporary visits, which are covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Around 200,000 patients use the directive’s systems each year to receive treatment in another member state. Around €2.56m of the EU-wide healthcare budget is estimated to be spent on reimbursements made under the directive each year.

The ECA’s report said by the time of its audit in November 2018, member states “were only just about to start exchanging patient health data electronically”, meaning “the benefits for cross-border patients could not be demonstrated”.

The European Commission failed to “properly assess either the potential use or the cost-effectiveness of exchanging cross-border health data”, the report added.

The auditors also found the Commission’s support for ‘European reference networks’, designed to help rare disease patients, was “marked by shortcomings” and that the networks had not been given spending plans. It was concluded the ERNs “face significant challenges to ensure they are financially sustainable and are able to operate effectively”.

“EU citizens still don’t benefit enough from the ambitious actions set out in the cross-border healthcare directive” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the ECA member responsible for the report. “Better management is needed to deliver on these ambitions.”

The auditors also found that while member states had been supported in improving information on patients’ rights to cross-border healthcare, there remained “gaps”. A Eurobarometer survey found in 2015 that fewer than 20% of citizens knew their rights on the matter.

The European Commission spokesperson for health and food safety said: “Many of the Court’s observations will help the Commission in its work with the member states to ensure better transposition and protect patients’ rights when they seek healthcare in another member state.

“The Commission will continue and intensify its work with the ‘national contact points’ to improve information for patients as recommended by the Court.”

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