Haredi men who perform national service in lieu of the military will be a boon to the public health system, Health Minister Yael German told hundreds of leading medical experts from Israel and abroad at the Fifth International Conference on Health Policy on Monday.

The three-day conference of the National Institute for Health Policy Research, held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, focuses on heath policy in times of austerity.

German said that a delicate balance must be created in the system between public and private medicine, and that the public’s confidence in the system must be preserved. A strong public health system, she continued, closes social and cultural gaps.

The inclusion of ultra-Orthodox men in the health system through national service (due to be launched in three years), alongside doctors, nurses, paramedics and others will improve healthcare, she added.

Home care for the ill and elderly is vital, German said, who noted that her parents lived with her in her Herzliya home during the last decade of their lives and benefited from visiting doctors and nurses. German added that their care was significantly cheaper and more humane than if they had been hospitalized.

More than 100 studies are being presented at the conference, both in person and as e-posters that can be ordered up and viewed on large screens.

Health Ministry chief scientist Prof. Avi Yisraeli and Harvard University provost Prof. Alan Garber are chairing the event opened by Prof. Shlomo Mor- Yosef, board chairman of the national institute and director-general of the National Insurance Institute.

Many participants castigated governments around the world for using budget deficits as an excuse for austerity measures that include cuts to vital services.

They noted that downsizing vital health programs can lead to more disease, suicides and other harmful effects that take decades to overcome.

Prof. Gary Freed, a leading pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s Schools of Medicine and of Public Health, said that because the number of American children needing care has remained nearly static for the past six decades – while the number of adults and elderly people has skyrocketed – there has been a major decline in the investment of funds for children, even reducing vaccination programs.

A study by Ben-Gurion University health economist Prof. Gabi Bin-Nun and colleagues examined the effect of age in listings of GDP and health expenditure per capita. Israel’s health expenditures per capita were very low relative to other OECD countries, he said, with total health spending as a percent of GDP, rating Israel as 26th out of the 34 countries on the list and 28th for health expenditure per capita. The US is first on the list, with the highest spending in healthcare.

As the Israeli population is younger than in most of the OECD, it has been claimed that the data does not reflect other countries’ age distribution. By using the standard age-adjusted index, Bin-Nun found that Israel’s relative position in public expenditure on health almost didn’t change as result of age adjustment and remained, at 27th, among the lowest in OECD countries.

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