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Constitutional Rights to Health Care: The Consequences of Placing Limits on the Right to Health Care in Several Western and Eastern European Countries

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This paper examines the right to health care. Various expressions of this right may be distinguished. These include both individual rights and social rights which could be based upon international treaties and constitutional rights. They may be found in national health legislation and, in some cases, in jurisprudence. To analyze the consequences of limiting the right to health care, a framework for judicial review has been developed which encompasses these expressions of the right to health care. The framework was used to examine legal and health policy developments in three Western and two Eastern European countries. In Italy and the Netherlands the right to health care is protected constitutionally (but on differing legal bases) while the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. In contrast, Hungary and Poland have for many years seen the state take responsible for the provision, administration and allocation of health care services and the right to health care was guaranteed theoretically but not in practice because of the lack of (financial) means. However, the Polish Constitution explicitly anticipates possible limitations of the right to health care. What all these countries have in common is a cost containment perspective where the future will bring even tighter limits on what resources patients may consume. Despite differences in legal structure between these countries, where they seem to converge is on the consequences of putting limitations on the right to health care. The courts in Italy, the Netherlands and the UK have formulated conditions drawn from the acceptance that this right has to be judged within the context of limited resources. It may be concluded that finding a compromise between the right to health care and cost containment policies could also be an issue, Eastern European countries will have to face in the future.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Health Policy and Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands


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