(photo credit: AP)
After a decade of the Treasury's incessant efforts to privatize family health (tipat halav) centers, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Monday that he decided to "freeze" the process and establish the health promotion and disease prevention facilities around the country as "advanced state services."
Olmert made the dramatic announcement in a letter to the Beersheba Conference for the Welfare of the Child that opened at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
In the letter, which was read aloud to participants, Olmert said he recognized the great contribution of tipat halav services for more than eight decades since the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of American began it in Jerusalem.
He added that he had asked Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, to head a team to redefine the role of the family health centers and integrate them in a new state-owned service.
The Treasury has been trying to get the four public health funds to take over the service, a move that was roundly opposed by public health experts because of the funds' lack of experience in disease prevention and health promotion, mixing of healthy and sick children in one place and the lack of incentive to carry them out.
Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri commented later that he was "glad the prime minister accepted my view and that of the ministry to leave tipat halav services in the ministry's hands. From the moment I entered office, I have fought for these services to remain in our hands. Tipat halav is one of the great achievements of the health system, and I never dreamed for a moment that primary preventive care of infants would become commercial or be privatized," he said.
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, called Olmert's decision a "brave" one that will have many dramatic implications for hundreds of thousands of families.
Family health services, he continued, "are a high-level, universal service recognized internationally that supplies vaccines to children and has lowered the infant mortality rate to among the lowest in the world. We congratulate the prime minister on his decision, but we ask him to take one more step - to cancel the annual user's fee paid by families."
Olmert said in his letter that the next matter in which he wants to transfer resources is the treatment of children at risk, in accordance with a report prepared by a public committee. He said he has already set aside NIS 400 million for this purpose over the next two years. Forty centers for helping young children will be established this year around the country.
The Israel Medical Association (IMA) welcomed Olmert's announcement, and chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar said: "I am happy that sanity has returned to the system... This is the best news the health system has had in a long time.. If the Treasury's plan had gone through, it would have come at the expense of the health of many Israeli children." He thanked Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich for her help to the IMA in the struggle against privatization.
Meanwhile, former health minister Likud MK Dan Naveh said at the BGU conference that preventive dental care for every Israeli child should be supplied by the health funds under the National Health Insurance system. He said it was wrong for responsibility for preventive dental services to be in the hands of local authorities and municipalities that "don't want it and cannot provide it."
In the session on children's dental care, it was stated that only a third of Israeli families take their children for a dental exam before the age of three - either because of lack of awareness of its importance or the lack of money.
US statistics show that 51 million hours of study and work are lost each year due to toothache. The situation is similar in Israel because of the lack of dental coverage, said the National Council. Half of all Israeli children have not visited a dentist in the past year. The council demanded that pediatric dental care be included in the basket of health services.
Dr. Shlomo Zusman, head of the ministry's dental health services, told The Jerusalem Post that the ministry endorses such a policy, and that such dental services can be supplied to children by health funds or other suppliers. At present, only 70 of more than 250 local authorities currently give young children preventive dental care. A ministry team is working to expand it, he said.