Stakeholders urge action on health services directive

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Doctors, patients and citizens alike are urging the Commission to come up with a promised directive on the provision of cross-border health services. They insist that official discussions on the proposal must begin, despite fears they could trigger major negative EU campaigning by some MEPs ahead of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

“We are all discussing something that does not officially exist,” said Charlotte Roffiaen, director of the Active Citizenship Network, at a debate on patients’ rights regarding cross-border healthcare organised by the European Parliament on 4 March 2008. “There is absolutely no transparency” in the process, she added.

The frustration comes as the Commisison’s long-awaited proposal to produce legislation setting out the circumstances under which EU patients can legitimately be covered for treatment received in other member states has still not been published. No publication date is foreseen (see EURACTIV 28/01/08).

“We are all asking when the Commission is going to present the proposal,” noted one participant, whereas Philippe Brunet, head of cabinet for the recently-appointed Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, said that “we have to rethink the schedule”. 

However, Brunet said that in any case the aim was “to ensure that the issue remains at the top of the agenda,” adding that the Commission was “trying to reserve a time slot to present the final proposal of the text in the coming months”. According to a health NGO, this could be either in April or June 2008.

If the Commission is taking so long to present the proposal, it is a result of the “lack of political will from member states and their fear of the constraints the directive might impose on them,” noted a representative of the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS). 

However, according to one member-state diplomat, even those countries which were intially somewhat more critical about the directive have now started to enquire as to when it will be published. “The optimists think that something will come out in April, but I don’t think so,” said the diplomat, who argued that some commissioners, namely Margot Wallström, Charlie McCreevy and Günter Verheugen, do not want to put out a proposal that could be used by some critical MEPs to produce negative propaganda on “yet another horrible EU directive” ahead the UK and Irish ratifications of the Lisbon Treaty.

Referring to an internal disagreement within the Commission, the diplomat also argued that McCreevy and Verheugen, who want to liberalise healthcare services to the maximum, did not want to present the proposal as it stood before Christmas, as they feared it would have got worse in the Parliament and even guaranteed less rights to patients as currently provided by ECJ rulings. Conversely, “Wallström appears to think that the proposal goes too far with privatisation,” added the diplomat.

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