On 3 May, HFE attended the meeting of the MEPs Interest Group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-border healthcare focused on “Patients’ Rights have no borders… As well as risks!” to discuss the opportunities and risks of the application of the cross-border healthcare Directive in the European Union.

The idea to encourage a MEPs informal Interest Group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-border healthcare was launched in May 2015 to fulfil the widespread request from more than 80 civic and patient organizations to the EU Parliament to move towards the institutionalization of the European Patients’ Rights Day as an effective message for European Institutions to put patients’ rights at the forefront of any discussion of healthcare system reform.

The meeting focused on the barriers EU citizens face when looking for medical treatments in another country. As stated by Mariano Votta, Director of Active Citizenship Network, “the biggest barrier is the financial one and as consequence cross border healthcare had only been available to those citizens with the means to afford it.” Furthermore, Mr Votta drew attention to the fact that “there is a need for increasing access to information at a European level, and that every citizen should know the treatment options that are available to them in order to receive the best care possible”. Other obstacles that made patients discard the option of looking for treatment in another European country are represented by language and cultural differences along with fraud and abuse that patients can experience while undertaking treatments abroad. Paul Vincke, Director of the European Healthcare Fraud and Corruption Network, remarked that “a solid cooperation is needed between member states and European Institutions to develop a user friendly communication platform and warning system, which would allow patients to be informed correctly before choosing healthcare services in another EU country”.

To overcome these barriers Mr Aurelien Pérez, Policy Officer within the Unit in charge of Cross border healthcare and eHealth at DG SANTE, described a few initiatives which have been undertaken by the European Commission, such as raising patient awareness on prior authorisation for medical treatment abroad, increasing cooperation between national authorities, and fostering data exchanges and best practices. He emphasised the critical role of the collaboration between the European Commission and European member states in sectors as health technology assessment, rare diseases, creation of European Reference Network and exchange of knowledge. He called on EU member states to strengthen national contact points, and pointed out that “an area that needs to be carefully defined is the process of reimbursements for those who receive healthcare services abroad”. Mr Pérez also drew attention on the fact that some healthcare systems are too complex for citizens that are not nationals of the country in which they are seeking treatment.

In her closing remarks, Ms Sonia Belfiore, Project Manager for the Active Citizenship Network, announced that ACN will soon start an awareness raising campaign in different EU languages to engage in cooperation with governments in a national and local level, and to guarantee that all European citizens are properly informed about their rights to go abroad for care.