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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night that on balance, "more good than bad" resulted from his ministry's negotiations with the Treasury over the Economic Arrangements Bill and the state budget. But he hopes and believes that a number of the "harmful proposals" relating to health will be voted down by the Knesset.
The "bad" items he listed included the Treasury's decision to, for the first time, to charge value added tax - which will be increased from 15.5 percent to 16.5% - on fresh produce.
Another move, which Litzman called "terrible," is to allow the establishment of a fifth health fund that would be for-profit - unlike the existing four non-profit health insurers. Such a policy, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to get approved when he was finance minister - would, according to some economic and health experts, drain the wealthy, healthy and young out of the public health funds, leaving the four with the poor, sick and elderly.
Prof. Manfred Green, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, warned that imposing VAT on fresh produce would raise the prevalence of cancer, heart disease and other disorders, and increase health costs, as many people would not be able to afford to eat healthful food.
As a result, even more would eat junk food - gaining weight, raising cholesterol levels and blood pressure and developing chronic diseases.
The World Heath Organization says that getting enough fresh produce in their diet would annually save the lives of 2.7 million people around the world. Failure to eat enough fresh produce was responsible for 19% of gastroenterological cancer, 31% of cardiovascular disease and 11% of strokes, Green said.
The public health expert, who used to be director of the Health Ministry's Center for Disease Control, said it would be preferable to raise VAT by 1% than to charge VAT on fresh produce.
Litzman told the Post that despite the Finance Ministry's "bad decisions" about health, others would be beneficial, such as cancelling copayments for care at Tipat Halav (well-baby) clinics starting on January 1; this alone will cost the Treasury NIS 40 million a year.
In addition, NIS 60m. will be added to the budget to develop infrastructure at hospitals in the periphery; funding to subsidize 450 more geriatric patients at chronic-care hospitals had been added; NIS 20m. will be added to rehabilitate the mentally ill in the community; more money will be allocated to treat autistic children, help the disabled purchase equipment for mobility and rehabilitation, and expand the basket of vaccinations for children; the number of (subsidized) students in the four medical schools will rise above 500 in the upcoming academic year; and funds will be allocated to "train and boost the number of nurses."
In addition, starting on January 1, routine screening for newborns' hearing will be carried out free in all the hospitals. And NIS 20m. will be allocated to provide basic prevention of dental decay for all school pupils.
The Treasury did not push through its planned limit on the number of stroke units around the country or the handing over of authority for the training of specialists and the choice of hospital department and unit heads from the Israel Medical Association's Scientific Council to bureaucrats interested in saving money, Litzman said.
However, the Treasury decided that victims of road accidents would be dependent on the health funds for treatment (according to their criteria, which includes their financial priorities); today, the hospitals provide accident victims care.
"There are still some subjects that are still being discussed and are not part of the Arrangements Bill," Litzman said. "I intend to handle them so that the public are satisfied."
Those harmful edicts that he didn't manage to cancel before the Knesset vote, could be rejected by the Knesset plenum, he said.