Italy May Limit Eyecare Services, EU Court Says

     (CN) – Italy can limit the establishment of optician’s shops based on population as part of its rights to regulate access to public health services, the EU’s Court of Justice ruled.
     A Sicilian regional law limits the number of optician’s shops to one per 8,000 residents, and states that optician’s shops must be located at least 300 meters apart.
     In 2009, however, the local government in Trapani, Sicily, authorized an optician to open a shop in another shop’s territory, and the competitor went to court to have the law enforced.
     The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled Thursday that the Sicilian regional law is legal under European Union law even though it hinders optician’s freedom of establishment.
     Member states have the discretion to decide the degree of control they wish to exercise over public health, and what methods to employ to encourage broad access to health services.
     “National authorities may adopt measures to avoid the risk of healthcare providers converging on localities in the territory concerned which are considered to be attractive,” the opinion states. “Thus, national authorities may opt, in the light of that risk, for legislation which provides that only one service provider may be established for a given population density, since such a rule seeks to encourage such service providers to establish premises in parts of the national territory where access to healthcare is lacking.”
     In a prior case, the court held that the establishment of pharmacies may be subject to government planning, and it said that the reasoning in that decision is applicable to optometrists, as well, “notwithstanding the differences which exist between the two types of healthcare service.”
     Given that ruling, “it is for the national court to examine, using specific statistical data or other means, whether the competent authorities use appropriately, in accordance with transparent and objective criteria, the powers made available under the legislation, with a view to attaining, in a coherent and systematic manner, the objectives pursued relating to the protection of public health throughout the territory concerned,” the judges concluded.

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