EU governments are meeting the Commission’s proposals to reform health systems with “silence”, an exasperated Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said on Thursday (25 January), pleading for more investment in prevention across the bloc.
Speaking at the annual lecture of the Coalition for Health, Ethics and Society, Andriukaitis called for “a radical shift towards health prevention, lifestyle and disease prevention.”
But the slow pace of driving national reform was a source of visible frustration to the bloc’s health chief.
“We are sending brilliant reports to the 28 member states…but we get silence,” he told delegates of the difficulty in forcing through policy changes.
“Only 3% of health budgets are spent on prevention. 80% is spent on treating sick people. This unbelievable asymmetry (across the EU) must be addressed,” said the Commissioner.
Together with the OECD and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, the Commission launched a ‘State of Health’ report in November.
The Commission has little power to legislate on health matters in the EU, which remain the sole responsibility of national governments. Instead, Andriukaitis has sought to coordinate national policies and to get health policies to cut across a range of public policy areas such as employment, transport and education.
Health not diseases
“I need your help to show people that ‘health in all sectors’ is not just an empty slogan,” said Andriukaitis. “I am the commissioner for health, not diseases.”
Despite that, the Lithuanian commissioner told delegates that “co-operation is ongoing – particularly between the Benelux countries and Austria – on drug pricing and innovative healthcare.”
Where the Commission has more power is through the EU treaty provisions on public health.
“The EU is a voluntary club. But Article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty deals with public health – things such as the Tobacco Products directive – these are not voluntary,” said Andriukaitis.
“In cases where the member states do not keep up with their obligations, we will start infringement proceedings.”
The Commission’s health agenda in 2018 is set to start when it tables new legislation on Health Technology Assessments (HTA) within the coming weeks. HTAs assess the added value and effectiveness of new health technologies – for example, medicines, medical devices, diagnostic tools or surgical procedures.
The EU executive hopes that governments will use it to control costs and access to new technologies and treatments at a time when many national health ministries are under pressure to cut costs and waste.