MEPs on Wednesday approved a new EU law setting out patients' rights to seek medical care in another EU country. The legislation clarifies the rules for reimbursement, including when advance authorisation may be required.

Françoise Grossetête (EPP, FR), who led discussions in Parliament, commented: "Patients will no longer be left to their own devices when they seek cross border healthcare and reimbursement. This directive will at last clear up patients' rights because until now they have been very vague."


The new rules clarify that EU citizens can be reimbursed for healthcare they receive in another Member State, as long as the type of treatment and costs would have normally been covered in their own country.


Authorities may require that patients seek ‘prior authorisation’ for treatments requiring overnight hospital stays or specialised healthcare. On the insistence of MEPs, any refusal will need to be justified according to a restricted list of possible reasons, which includes certain risks to the patient or general public.


Each country must establish a ‘contact point’ to provide information to patients considering seeking treatment abroad. Contact points will also provide assistance if problems occur.


Seeking healthcare abroad could particularly benefit patients on long waiting lists, or those unable to find specialist attention. MEPs strengthened provisions for cooperation on rare diseases, since awareness can be low and experts are often few and far between.


As a general rule, most patients prefer to receive treatment close to home. Currently, 1% of Member States’ health budgets are spent on crossborder healthcare.


The rules concern only to those who choose to seek treatment abroad. The European Health Insurance Card scheme will continue to apply for citizens who require urgent treatment when visiting another EU country.


Next steps


The text approved by MEPs is the result of an agreement reached with Council, which must also give its formal approval. Once signed into law, Member States have 30 months to make changes to their national legislation.