Health Inequalities

Significant health inequalities persist across Europe, not only between Member States but also within the Member States. The EU is attempting to tackle these inequities via two frameworks: one focused on social determinants of health inequalities and the other providing cross-border health rights to European citizens: 

Health Inequalities and Social Determinants 

Adopted in 2009, the basis for EU action is the Commission Communication ‘Solidarity in health: reducing health inequalities in the EU’ (COM (2009) 567). The aim of the communication is to provide a framework to further develop EU actions to tackle health inequalities in the EU, between Member States and also within Member States. Focus is on data collection and exchange of good practices. Actions and tools to address the problem include:
  • Collaborate with Member States, Regions and other Stakeholder 
  • Awareness raising 
  • Measurement, knowledge, indicators 
  • Health inequality audit 
  • Integrated Policy Development 
  • Health as part of overall social and economic development 
  • Targeted action for vulnerable groups – Roma, migrants 
  • EU Policies and Funding 
  • Health, social, research, rights (environment) 
  • Cohesion, rural development funds

In 2013, the Commission published the Report on health inequalities. The report provides an overview of the size and trends in health inequalities in the EU since 2000 as well as an assessment  of the actions carried under the Communication on health inequalities.

Amongst the tangible results in this area, an Expert group on Social Determinants and Health Inequalities has been established, as a means for Member States to cooperate. As well, three Health Inequalities Joint Actions have been put in place. Joint Actions are another means for Member States authorities to exchange best practices in a given field. Joint Action on Health Inequalities are/have been ‘Equity Action’ (which lead to the creation of the permanent partnership of European public bodies EuroHealthNet); and Healthequity2020 and Actionforhealth both dealing with the preparation for action plans and structural funds projects.

Cross-border Rights in healthcare

A major milestone in EU health policies, the Directive on Cross-Border Healthcare(Directive 2011/24/EU)  grants right to access healthcare services across the EU.  It regulates thus reimbursement costs of cross-border healthcare. It also tries to boost Member States’ cooperation in healthcare by means mainly of mutual recognition of medical prescriptions,  the development of the European Reference Networks, cooperation in eHealth and on health technology assessment (HTA).