Health inequalities require EU-wide response

Increasing cooperation between EU institutions and member states in health policy is the only way to tackle obstacles to healthcare access, writes Andrey Kovatchev.

By Andrey Kovatchev

Andrey Kovatchev (BG, EPP) is the European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur on Armenia

11 Sep 2014

The newly elected European parliament is about to begin its work with healthcare issues high on its political agenda. The ground was set during the previous legislature when the problem of access to quality healthcare across Europe was addressed by a number of MEPs' initiatives.

Some patients are forced to migrate to another country to find a suitable therapy when they cannot access proper diagnosis and treatment in their home country. This problem is particularly severe in new member states whose healthcare systems remain insufficiently reformed. Disparities have also been exacerbated by austerity measures which mean that equal access to quality healthcare is far from being a reality.

Legally speaking, the areas of protection and improvement of human health remain largely with the member states. The EU has only a supportive role to play in tackling health inequalities affecting all EU countries. As vicepresident of the Union of European Federalists, I'm advocating for more competences at EU level in public health policy. EU patients are paying the cost of a lack of European policy in healthcare. European problems must be given European solutions. EU citizens recognise more and more that EU collaboration is in their interest.

"EU patients are paying the cost of a lack of European policy in healthcare"

In 2011, MEPs raised health inequalities as an issue that should be afforded an EU response. They voted on a resolution on this issue of major concern for all EU member states and candidate countries. I have been involved from the onset of this initiative, staying idle because a lack of competence in healthcare is a no-go for Europe. The EU should be as close as possible to citizens and help them solve their problems. This also means supporting member states to remove obstacles to quality healthcare services for patients. The European commission is very positive in outlining possible working solutions that should be implemented by the member states.

The commitment from parliament has resulted in the creation of a patient access partnership on equity of access to quality healthcare. Led by patients - the European patients' forum and the national patient organisation of Bulgaria - the partnership will work as a network of partners that brings together the patients' movement, the medical community, the industry, policymakers and politicians.

Partners want to foster more action and cooperation between member states and institutions to tackle roadblocks to access healthcare in the next legislative term. They are also conducting a mapping exercise to have a clear overview of current initiatives in this area to scale up good practice and synergies.

It is important to ensure these proposals are heard by the EU institutions and enter their agendas. That is why I intend to initiate an informal interest group on equal access to quality healthcare once parliament restarts. Bridging the access platform with EU policymaking will be our main goal. Many of my MEP colleagues are committed to working for greater visibility of the issue and the better involvement of stakeholders in policymaking. This informed my decision to work in the parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee.

Read the most recent articles written by Andrey Kovatchev - The Eastern Partnership: Driving change in the South Caucasus

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