Euro MPs adopt cross-border healthcare law

Euro MPs have backed healthcare legislation aimed at making it easier for EU citizens to get medical treatment in another EU member state.

The directive should help patients get reimbursed back at home.

When a hospital stay is required, the directive says health services can request prior authorisation from doctors in the patient's home country.

The prior authorisation clause is intended as a safeguard against any unexpected surge in foreign patients.

The directive passed a second reading in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, so the new rules will apply across the EU in about two years' time.

According to a parliament report, "the aim is absolutely not to encourage cross-border healthcare as such, but to ensure its availability, safety and quality".

EU governments - collectively called the Council - approved the cross-border healthcare package last year.

Several legal cases have already established EU citizens' entitlement to travel to another member state for medical treatment and have their home country settle the bill.

So the purpose is not to give patients new rights, rather to clarify those existing already and put them into a single piece of legislation.

The 27 EU member states will be required to provide national contact points for visiting EU citizens to get information about their health services and what treatment they can expect.

The European Commission says cross-border healthcare affects only a small proportion of patients in the EU.

On average, 1% of public healthcare budgets is spent on such cases - about 10bn euros (£8.4bn) annually across the EU, the Commission says.

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