Irish people who have been waiting years for medical treatment or who suffer from rare diseases are the most likely to gain from the new Cross-Border Healthcare Directive agreed by the European Parliament this week.
The initiative, which will take at least two and a half years to implement, will give Irish patients on a waiting list the right to travel abroad for treatment and be reimbursed, unless the Health Service Executive can prove that it can provide treatment within a time-limit that is medically justifiable.
Leinster MEP Nessa Childers rejected criticism that the directive could drive patients abroad in search of cheaper treatments, resulting in a threat to local care standards in poorer member states.
"This measure does not encourage so-called 'health tourism', and most patients prefer to be treated near their home.
"But sometimes the specialist expertise needed, particularly for those with rare cancers or other conditions, is just not available in a patient's country of residence. This law will allow such patients access the best clinical trials and specialised treatments available anywhere in the EU," said Ms Childers.
Her fellow MEP Mairead McGuinness, who has posted a detailed Q and A on her website about the directive, warned that certain details must be ironed out before the law takes effect.
"The requirement for prior authorisation of treatment must not hinder patients getting the care they need," she said.