New draft rules under consideration by the European Commission will make it easier for patients to seek treatment in other EU countries without having prior authorization.
As part of a wider "renewed Social Agenda", patients would also be allowed easier access to information on cross-border healthcare.
AdvertisementThe plans will also make it easier for patients to receive medication prescribed abroad after they return home.
The agenda, to be unveiled by the European Commission on Wednesday, is part of a "social" push by the EU, often criticised as being too distant from the real needs and concerns of its almost half a billion citizens.
Under the cross-border health scheme draft, seen by AFP, a patient would have to pay for treatment in another EU nation up front, but would have those costs paid back up to the level of reimbursement for the same treatment under their own national health system.
The latter point is key, especially to countries such as Britain which are concerned that the new rules will open the floodgates for medical tourism, leaving them to fork out for expensive treatment received elsewhere.
The "community framework" draft plans are clear.
"Any non-hospital care to which citizens are entitled in their own member state, without prior authorisation, and be reimbursed up to the level of reimbursement provided by their own system," the draft says.
For hospital care, the commission's directive says that if Britain, or any other member state, can provide evidence that the outflow of patients resulting from the new rules might seriously undermine hospital planning then a system of prior authorisation could be employed.
Nor would a country be obliged to reimburse treatment abroad which is not offered by its own national health service, meaning the new rules would not be a way for someone to get free plastic surgery or hydrotherapy if it is not on offer at home.
The goal is to increase the opportunities and guarantees to patients without hitting the sustainability of national health systems.
It is aimed at bringing the EU rules into line with, and dealing with concerns raised by, European court rulings such as one in 2006 when Britain's health service was told to pay thousands for a hip replacement for Yvonne Watts who travelled to France for the operation.
Watts had said her health authority had told her she would have a lengthy wait for the treatment at home.
On average one percent of public healthcare budgets are spent on cross-border healthcare, a total of around 10 billion euros (15.75 billion dollars) per year.
Brussels hopes that the new social package, which also notably addresses non-workplace discrimination and works councils operations, will counter the criticism that it is too concentrated on the sort of institutional "navel-gazing" surrounding the Lisbon Treaty which Irish voters rejected this month.
The proposals on health also include a plan for "European reference networks" which would bring together, on a voluntary basis, specialised centres in different member states "in order to provide high quality and cost-effective care".
Activities in the area of "e-health" will also be boosted in areas such as remote on-line provision of specialist support from large hospitals to smaller local clinics and in monitoring of chronic diseases.