TheLocal.se | July 20 2012
Despite EU legislation about citizens’ healthcare rights, the situation in Sweden reveals a system riddled with problems that create uncertainty about treatments and leave many with huge bills to pay, The Local’s Salomon Rogberg discovers.
When it was first introduced in 2004, the EU’s European Health Insurance Card was hailed as a major step forward in facilitating the free movement of people throughout the European Union.
By flashing the blue credit card-sized document, any EU citizen in need of medical care would be ensured their treatment would be covered by the public health care system, regardless of whether they were in their home country or visiting another EU member state.
But the recent case of Johanna, a Swedish woman residing in Germany who was left with 130,000 kronor ($18,500) in medical bills after she gave birth prematurely while visiting family in Sweden, shows that the system doesn’t always work, especially for mobile Europeans who divide their time between more than one EU country.
“Someone has to take responsibility. If you’re an EU citizen, it shouldn’t be a problem to receive healthcare,” Moderate Party MEP Christoffer Fjellner tells The Local.
Fjellner’s frustration stems from what he sees as failings in the EU health system that in dealing with the medical needs of mobile EU citizens – precisely the sort of people whose lives were supposed to be made easier by a more harmonized system across member states.
In many ways, Johanna – whose case was highlighted recently in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper – embodies the modern “EU citizen”: born in an EU country (Sweden), working in another (Germany) for an employer based in yet another (the UK).
But because she was pregnant when she moved to Germany, health authorities there said she had a “pre-existing condition” and thus wasn’t covered by Germany’s public health insurance system.
And after her baby came six weeks early during a visit to Sweden, Johanna was shocked when she received a bill from the Swedish hospital for more than 120,000 kronor for the delivery and two weeks of neo-natal care that health authorities in Sweden, Germany and the UK refused to cover.
“It’s idiotic to let people suffer and force them to borrow money to pay bills,” says Fjellner, who has devoted significant time toward issues related to mobility and healthcare access within the EU.
According to him, existing legislation on the matter is clear but huge problems remain in how the rules are implemented in Sweden and elsewhere.
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