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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 10:06 GMT
Key EU health care report delayed
Scrubbing up before an operation
Patients could claim reimbursement for treatment abroad
The EU has delayed releasing controversial proposals that would have made it easier for patients to travel abroad within the bloc for health care.

A European Commission spokesman said the delay was for "agenda reasons", so the commission can focus on unveiling a new law on CO2 emissions from cars.

The plan was to say EU citizens should be entitled to care elsewhere if the treatment is allowed in their state.

Court rulings said patients should be reimbursed for care at home or abroad.

Controversial plans

Because of the controversial nature of the plans, the commission has spent months drafting and re-drafting them, but will still face opposition from a number of countries.

EXPECTED PROPOSALS
Hospital care: allowed across the EU if allowed at home
Undue delay: treatment allowed abroad, if appropriate care cannot be provided in home country without undue delay
Reimbursement: government may require prior authorisation before hospital care
Non-hospital care: reimbursement without prior authorisation, if entitled to care in own member states

In the UK, some Labour MPs fear the proposals will lead to an internal market for health and ultimately to the demise of the publicly-funded National Health Service (NHS).

The Department of Health has already made it clear that the commission's draft directive will be subject to change during negotiations.

A spokesman said: "We think it is critical that the legislative framework ensures that the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund to meet the needs of individual patients."

Spain and Germany are also likely to oppose some of the plans.

Prior authorisation

Anticipating a frosty reception, the commission was expected to propose giving member states prior authorisation of reimbursement for a hospital stay abroad.

For that to happen, a country would have to provide evidence that the number of patients seeking hospital care abroad would affect the planning of their home country's hospital sector.

The commission was due to announce that that anyone who could not have "appropriate care" for their condition in their own country "without undue delay, will be authorised to go abroad, and any additional costs of treatment will be covered by public funds".

Non-hospital treatment would not require prior agreement.

Hospital compensation

The blueprint was also due to include measures to help patients who suffer harm from treatment abroad.

Earlier this year, the European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, spoke of a patient who had claimed 100,000 euros (71,000) in compensation, when the hospital itself was worth only twice that amount.

He wants to address that with plans for national contact points to give patients information and assistance if anything goes wrong.

The catalyst for these proposals was a ruling in 2006 on the case of Yvonne Watts, a 75 year-old British woman who paid 3,900 (5,450 euros) for a hip replacement in France because she was not prepared to wait a year for an operation in Britain.

The European Court of Justice decided that patients who were facing an undue delay, in the view of clinicians, should be allowed to seek treatment in other EU states at their own country's cost.



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