A new law approved by parliament Wednesday will make it easy for European travellers short of prescription drugs, or on waiting-lists for surgery at home, as they will be reimbursed for care anywhere in the EU by late 2013.
The ground-breaking European parliament law, adopted after years of talks, sets out patients' rights to medical care in any of the 27 member states, while spelling out rules for reimbursement and requirements for prior authorisation.
"This is a big day for European health, a great victory for patients' rights," said Health Commissioner John Dalli.
The law, which after formal approval by the EU's 27 leaders at a summit gives members 30 months to transcribe it into national legislation, will enable patients to be reimbursed at home for care received in a foreign country.
People seeking more than 24-hour hospital care across a border will need to get prior agreement from national health services. But the legislation sets out refusal rules to ensure requests are not thrown out lightly.
A patient with a heart condition for example might not be granted a request on the grounds that travel was dangerous for his health. Or a request for surgery could be turned down if the clinic had a reputation for hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).
"Some rare diseases aren't even recognised in some countries, let alone treated" said Dalli. "And small countries often can't offer the same medical services as bigger nations."
Patients will be able to seek non-hospital treatment or care without prior authorisation.
Dalli said the legislation would not prompt Europeans to travel for care as sick people prefer to seek treatment in their own countries.
The demand for cross-border healthcare affects only around one percent of public spending on health, he said.
Under the new law, member states are to set up information centres offerng patients data on treatment, providers and levels of reimbursement across the bloc.