Efficiency and Innovation Key to Addressing Europe’s Health System Woes
Panel members discuss innovative financing

Budgetary efficiency and innovative ways to finance health emerged as key solutions to the problems plaguing the European health systems, according to a panel at the European Health Forum in Bad Gastein on Tuesday. 

Europe’s healthcare system is faced with several bottlenecks, said panelists. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems such as a lack of adequate workforce and increased out-of-pocket spending on healthcare for citizens of the European Union (EU). 

The need to ensure equitable healthcare, cope with inflation and muster the political will are also issues undermining the health system. 

Is lack of money the problem? 

Money is hardly the problem. The European Commission EU’s long-term budget, coupled with the NextGenerationEU (NGEU) stimulus to boost post-COVID recovery, is channeling over €2-trillion to its member states to address the most important challenges before Europe and support those in need. 

Its EU4Health programme has a €5.3 billion budget for the 2021-27 period to “build stronger, more resilient and more accessible health systems” that are better able to withstand pandemics.

In the aftermath of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, the EU budget was mobilised to provide emergency assistance and support in Ukraine and in the EU countries, and to alleviate the humanitarian consequences of the war.

“Different needs are best when addressed at their appropriate levels. We have all painfully realised that viruses do not stop at borders. Highly communicable diseases can only be tackled at the international level,” said Nathalie Berger, the director for support to member states’ reforms at the European Commission. 

Other key messages at the session revolved around improving efficiencies and stimulating innovation.


Tamás Evetovits, head of Health Systems Financing at the WHO Barcelona Office, stressed the need for efficient use of funds to bolster up the healthcare system. 

He urged member state to restrict their citizens’ out-of-pocket spending on health care to no more than 15%, which would avoid “catastrophic expenditure” by households. 

According to 2019 EU data on unmet health needs, around 3.1% of the EU population aged 16 and above reported that they have unmet medical examination or treatment needs. This number varied from 0.3% of the population in Spain to 17.6% in Estonia. ‘Unmet needs’ health care needs that are not met due to reasons like cost, distance or long waiting list to access the care service. 

Innovation – now and beyond

In pursuit of universal health coverage and access, Europe should not sacrifice the quality and affordability of healthcare services, said Anca Toma, executive director of the European Patients Forum. Equity is really important and we want to make sure that health system reform is really centred around protecting the most vulnerable.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic tested Europe’s socio-economic safety net and health systems capacity, the war in Ukraine and with that, inflation and the food and energy crisis, have worsened matters. 

“The situation is tight as we know and the money will become tighter,” said Francesca Colombo, the head of the health division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “There is a question of who will absorb the pressure on price increases. Is it going to be the government? Is it going to be households? Is it going to be providers?” 

Post-pandemic, money is being channelled towards sectors other than health to rebuild. However, Colombo said that “countries need to invest 1.4% of their GDP across the OECD countries in health systems, targeted at things like workforce, information systems, prevention etc.” 

Members of the audience had a few innovative solutions to finance health systems. Ricardo Leite, a Member of Parliament from Portugal said countries could ask fast food companies to fund public health as they “are taking away health from our societies”.

He added that empowering health ministers to be part of the highest decision-making body of governments could also bring in more funds to the system. 

“I don’t know any minister of health that doesn’t say I want to do better…and they are always seen as the person bringing costs to the government,” he added.

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