State to pay for health care abroad

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Norwegians stuck on long waiting lists for operations or other necessary medical care at local hospitals will soon be able to travel to hospitals elsewhere in Europe for treatment. The state will pick up the bill, just as it does at hospitals in Norway.

Treatment abroad will become an option, reports newspaper Aftenposten, when the European Parliament formally approves a new directive on patient rights for health care services across borders of all 30 countries within the EU and European Economic Area (EEA, or EØS in Norwegian). Approval was expected this week.

The directive allows patients to choose to receive medical care in any one of the EU or EEA countries, and their homelands must cover the costs.

Norway is not a member of the European Union (EU) but it is a member of the EEA . Norwegian authorities are thus obliged to pay for health care for its residents anywhere in Europe if it involves treatment the patient can demand under Norwegian law. The costs, however, can’t be higher than what similar treatment would cost in Norway and patients must first have received approval for the operation or treatment in their home country.

Local governments, Norway included, can refuse to pay for treatment abroad if the patient can receive treatment at home without a long wait. Some EU officials think the directive will reduce waiting lists all over Europe, reported Aftenposten, when health care officials are faced with having to pay for procedures abroad anyway.

Norwegian musician and author Ketil Bjørnstad was among those glad to hear patients should soon have more options. He needed a heart operation last year, but it was deemed non-critical and he was told he probably needed to wait up to two years to get it done in Norway.

Bjørnstad opted to travel to a clinic in Denmark instead, and paid for the procedure himself, rather than feel poorly for two more years. He wrote about his frustration over the waiting time in a column in Aftenposten last fall.

“This sort of service will make the situation so much better for so many people,” Bjørnstad told Aftenposten this week. “There are a lot of desperate people out there.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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