EU healthcare reimbursement delay impacts older patients in Ireland

Delays in reimbursing Irish patients who travel for treatment under the EU Cross-Border Healthcare Directive are forcing older people to take out loans from credit unions.

As well as long delays, there is concern that, as much of this treatment is in Northern Ireland, Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) should be billed direct by these hospitals and not force patients to fund the bills until they get reimbursed.

Irish citizens travelling to Belfast for procedures and operations have been taking out loans ranging from €1,500 (US$1,650) for cataract operations up to €13,000 (US$14,300) for hip replacements These elderly patients have generally not borrowed money for healthcare.

The HSE is supposed to reimburse people within 30 days, but spikes in demand mean that delays of three to six months or more are common. The HSE says this is due to a lack of manpower to administer the payments. A backlog of 2,500 cases was allowed to build up.

The HSE has also apologised for delays in processing applications under a scheme that allows patients seeking medical treatment abroad. The most common surgeries paid for by the scheme are cataracts, orthopaedic work including hip and knee replacements, gynaecology, and general surgery.

The main countries where services are accessed are Northern Ireland; Wales and the UK in general; and Poland.