A new era of EU health care coverage dawns today, even though the law that transposes the European directive to national legislation has not been adopted in Estonia yet.
As of October 25, Estonian residents can go abroad for medical treatment, in many cases without prior authorization, and the Health Insurance Fund will reimburse them according to the price of the service in Estonia. Citizens of other member states can do the same, getting treatment in Estonia.
Estonia has had two years to implement the act, but the process has been lagging in Parliament. It is hoped to vote the bill through in November. The snag, which MPs blame on delays in the period when the bill was gathering ministry endorsements, does not affect the status of the directive, said Margus Tsahkna, the chairman of the Social Affairs Committee.
While patients are guaranteed retroactive reimbursement for costs incurred starting today, not everyone is happy. For one, pharmacists say they should also qualify for status as health care workers.
A question that initially sparked much debate was whether foreigners would not come to Estonia in excessive numbers and make waiting lists even longer.
Tsahkna says there is no reason to feed fears.
"All of the necessary measures are provided in the act transposing the directive. If there is a problem and the inflow of foreign patients is so high that it starts jeopardizing our patients, the Health Insurance Fund can propose to introduce barriers," Tsahkna said.
"But in all cases, our own patients get preferential treatment. That is the case in Estonia and other member states," he added.
However, the law is billed on the European Commission website as specifically enabling equal treatment: "Patients traveling to another EU country for medical care will enjoy equal treatment with the citizens of the country in which they are treated."
The Estonian implementing act also goes one better than the original directive, said Tsahkna. Patients will have access to different hospitals within Estonia, to minimize their wait.