Context: Since the 1990s, the EU's influence over national health care policy has been limited to European internal market law or social policy coordination mechanisms. The introduction of EU competition law into health care is more recent and underdeveloped; however, its introduction would potentially be much more far-reaching and disruptive.

Methods: Three EU competition law (state-aid) cases are used and comprise both Court of Justice and European Commission decisions. One is from Ireland, one is from the Netherlands, and the third is from Belgium.

Findings: The Belgian (Iris-H) case sees EU institutions scrutinize a clearly “social” (nonmarket) health care model with EU competition law for the first time. This is a highly significant development. It is clear, however, that the European Commission is more reluctant to use EU competition law to scrutinize health care systems than the European courts are.

Conclusions: This intent on the part of EU institutions will have to be assessed in future cases, as considerable uncertainty about its shape and outer contours remains. However, EU competition law, and the EU's state-aid investigation apparatus, encroaching into the national health care systems for the first time is highly significant.

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