A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Health Ministry is trying to halt the switching of independent medical specialists – especially family physicians, pediatricians and gynecologists – from one health fund to another to earn higher wages. The four health funds, facing growing shortages and long queues, have been offering new arrivals large sums for leaving their previous employers.
Health Ministry, Finance Ministry and Antitrust Authority officials met on Sunday to discuss the problems and how to ameliorate them. The problem involves mostly specialists who are paid per patient they see rather than those that are salaried.
Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said that limitation of moving from one health fund to another was needed to stem the flow and that the situation was unique and that the extra payments come at the expense of the public health system and the government.
Due to inadequate long-term planning by the Health Ministry for many years, including the failure to institute effective incentives for young physicians to go into less-popular specialties, the queues in health funds for them have lengthened. Patients have been waiting for months and as long as a year to see doctors in certain specialties due to the shortage, especially in the periphery.
Michal Halperin, director-general of the Israel Antitrust Authority, voiced her fears about Health Ministry intervention.
It was decided that the Health Ministry would maintain contact with each insurer separately regarding the regulation of the transfer of doctors among them in a manner that best serves the public interest and in accordance with principles set by the ministry, which said that in the coming weeks, it will continue to work to find a solution.
The Health Ministry said that the health funds will not be allowed to agree among themselves about non-competition regarding the hiring of doctors. Individual cases will be brought, in coordination with the relevant government officials, to the head of the authority for granting a temporary and specific exemption in accordance with the degree of harm to competition.
Morris Dorfman, a former deputy head of the Government Companies Authority and deputy director of the National Economic Council, joined the Health Ministry just 10 days ago as head of its new regulation branch.
He told The Jerusalem Post that some “star” specialists who work independently for health funds take advantage of their status and negotiate to move to another health fund for much higher pay. Patients who want to consult them will then switch health funds, which causes instability. This is a common phenomenon especially in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sector, but in others as well.
“This results in the health funds raising wages significantly to lure the popular physician,” said Dorfman. “Many specialists just threaten to leave a health fund and manage to get significant wage hikes. This means that the health system has to spend much more on doctors’ wages and less on medical equipment such as MRIs and development.”
Dorfman said that the situation is bad in all four health funds, and has been especially critical since 2015. Being new to the ministry, he could not explain why the ministry took 18 months before considering action. “It’s better [to act] now than never. We want the situation frozen, with no movement, for a few months so we can work on the problem and offer solutions,” he concluded.