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Bringing EU citizens together or pulling them apart?

Stan, S., Erne, R. and Gannon, S. (2020) 'Bringing EU citizens together or pulling them apart? The European Health Insurance Card, east-west mobility, and the failed promise of European social integration'. Journal of European Social Policy

Published December 6, 2020

Abstract. Although the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) was meant to bring Europeans together, this study shows that it is amplifying social inequalities across regions and classes. First, we evaluate the effects of east–west EHIC mobility, and of Eastern Europeans’ participation in it, on the practice of EU social citizenship rights to access cross-border care along spatial (east–west) and social class divides. We then assess the impact of these mobilities on healthcare resources in Western and Eastern Europe. Our findings show that the EHIC reinforces rather than reduces the spatially and socially uneven access to social citizenship rights to cross-border care. Moreover, EHIC patient outflows from Eastern to Western Europe result in a much higher relative financial burden for the budgets of Eastern European states than outflows from Western to Eastern Europe do for Western European countries. As a result, east–west EHIC mobility is reproducing rather than reversing healthcare inequalities between the two regions. Hence, the EHIC does not fulfil its promise of European social integration – not, however, because it creates a burden on Western European welfare states as often argued in Eurosceptic tabloids, but because it increases social inequalities both inside and between richer and poorer EU member states.