Canvassing for a European semester for healthcare policy
Similar to an economic semester for growth, Alojz Peterle, President of the MEPs Against Cancer (MAC) group calls for a semester for health
Despite being an essential part of economic and social success, health systems in Europe are in crisis and need major reform. Change is hard to implement and health ministers face an uphill battle with insufficient political leverage to make the big changes happen. In the meantime we have observed substantial impact of the EU on health and I believe it is only likely to increase. Since healthcare is a national responsibility, the question is what added value can the EU provide and what help can the EU bring to its Member States in order to tackle the many challenges in the domain of health?
Health is one of the most important values in people’s lives and it is an essential part of both economic and social success. Worrying health trends, particularly increasing rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, despite advances in treatment, mean that this value is increasingly under threat.
We have to face the fact that EU Member States are on the brink of facing a crisis in their health systems. Health systems need major reforms, modernisation and streamlining in order to become more efficient. But such structural changes are hard to implement and Health Ministers, not only face an uphill battle to update their health systems, but also lack of the adequate political leverage to make the big changes happen.
When we talk about a paradigm shift we should not be talking about cosmetics, but about essential changes in the way we approach health systems. We need to switch from disease to health oriented systems. We need to become result oriented and our success should converge homogenously.
For example, one aspect of this is health promotion, which should be understood positively as the way of diminishing the inflow of new patients. In the long run, health promotion is the most cost-effective response for improving the state health.
From an ethical standpoint, a healthier society is the one that consumes “less healthcare services and products” and enjoys “healthy lifestyles”.
In times in which many Unions are being proposed, we need to start considering and including health as one of the most important human values and policy aspects. Therefore, in my views, the time has come, that the Commission considers launching the “Health Union” initiative.
Within the Health Union, I consider that health governance and health policy coordination is one of the most ambitious elements of it. I do not think Member States should transfer any of its health responsibilities to the EU, but rather the EU should help them to achieve concrete progress in their health indicators, health goals and results, without taking into account the way of achieving them.
I call this the “European Semester for Health”, similar to the economic semester for growth and jobs, which would become a yearly cycle of health policy coordination and a framework designed to give Member States an incentive to converge towards commonly established health targets independently from the approach legitimately chosen by each member state, as far as the objectives are met. The creation of such framework would be possible under broader and more ambitious interpretation of the article 168 of TFEU.
Finally, with a European commissioner for health Andriukaitis’ indication of exploring the options for expanding the role of the EU in health policy by making changes to EU treaties we should understand one thing clearly: the impact of the EU on health is only likely to increase
Lojze Peterle is the President of the MEPs Against Cancer group and Co-Chair of the Health Working Group within the ENVI Committee.