Important step towards a European care market

Commentary, Healthcare & Welfare, Johan Hjertqvist

EU citizens are now entitled to seek medical care anywhere within the EU and to have it paid for by their country of domicile. The Swedish Supreme Administrative Court’s decision recently, ordering the Swedish Social Insurance Office to pay for rheumatoid patient Susanne Jelinek’s treatment in Germany, merely confirms the case law which has evolved in the past few years. If the foreign alternative is judged more efficient from the patient’s point of view than care in the home country, the latter cannot even insist on the patient applying in advance to be treated in another country.

This opens up a European care market – a major step towards the free movement which the EU has always aimed for.

It is not for the EU to decide how medial care is to be organised or priorities defined, but by clearly asserting people’s freedom of movement and their freedom to establish services and enterprises within Europe, the Union is decisively contributing towards an infrastructure from which all care consumers will benefit.

  • More consumer consideration in medical care: there are many hundred Swedish patients, possibly thousands, whose county council of residence or local social insurance office denies them care abroad. Without that care they are often doomed to prolonged, possibly lifelong illness, pain, disability and sometimes, unfortunately, premature death.
  • Greater security under the law: patients in Sweden have no statutory rights. County councils, under the other hand, have certain obligations to provide care. Now that the European legal system is achieving impact, the status of the patient will have to be defined by law. Politicians and authorities will have to move over. This will strengthen the rule of law.
  • Comparability: as mobility increases, the quality and cost of care will become subjects of European-wide comparison. Care consumers will call available methods of treatment and care providers to account. Ranking, rating and market information will give consumers added clout. Successful care providers will be rewarded, bad ones will have to pull their socks up.
  • A new branch of enterprise: health and medical care in Europe this year will gross an estimated EUR 1 200 bn. And still resources are not enough. There is much to suggest that we will have to start seeing this area as a branch of enterprise with the big growth potential that an ageing Europe so badly needs. This would open the door to investments, diversity, new enterprises and services, marketing elements, new forms of finance and better consumer influence.
  • The European medical care market is opening up. As yet the door is only ajar. Once it is opened wide, the possibilities will be enormous.

    Photo: Frontier Centre President Peter Holle with Charlotte Cederschiold, Deputy Speaker, European Parliament, Kersti Hjertqvist and Johan Hjertqvist, Director, Timbro Health Consumer Policy Centre after October 2003 Health Reform Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.