On Monday 19 March, at the Résidence Palace, at the heart of the EU district in Brussels, European Voice will organise a lunchtime debate about the challenge of and opportunity for improving healthcare in times of economic crisis.
A difficult context
As European economies are being hit hard by the financial and debt crisis, policymakers are under pressure to balance budgets. Budget cuts are affecting social services throughout Europe, including healthcare. While citizens bear the brunt of curtailed services and rising prices, healthcare institutions and companies are also affected by the resources crunch. In a context of population ageing, also foreseen to take its toll on shrinking resources, and continuously rising healthcare costs, European decision-makers are faced with tough choices.
An opportunity for reform
As today's investments will shape tomorrow's healthcare, the current crisis is viewed by some stakeholders as an opportunity to re-shape European healthcare systems and push through reforms that will improve their efficiency. The leverage capacity of EU funding programmes is seen as a key tool to accelerate these changes. At the same time, the clock is ticking for the EU and its member states to act to avoid that the crisis leads to a degradation of general healthcare conditions. Rising unemployment and income inequalities threaten to roll back the achievements of past decades in improving the general level of healthcare in European societies. The World Health Organisation is ringing the alarm bell and reducing health inequities features prominently among the objectives of its upcoming “Health 2020” strategy for the European region.
A driver for economic growth
Despite the crisis, the EU still views the healthcare sector as a potential driver for economic growth. As a consequence, the EU response to the above-mentioned challenges relies heavily on investments in innovative technologies. With Horizon 2020, a research and innovation programme to replace the traditional EU research Framework Programmes, the European Commission is putting more emphasis on supporting market players.
Time for new thinking?
Can that strategy pay off? As technology is a major driver of healthcare costs, will it really improve health outcomes and reinforce health systems? Or is the Commission mixing up industrial policy with public health policy? How does this articulate with member states competences? What can other players do to prevent a degradation of population health across Europe? In which sectors should stakeholders – institutional and private – invest and focus their efforts? Who can best deliver on what? Where can public-private partnerships be most effective? Is there enough investment into prevention?