Health Ministry urged to supervise medical tourism
Treatment of foreigners may come at expense of local patients, Knesset research center report finds.
The Health Ministry in Jerusalem Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Although medical treatment for foreign tourists could come at the expense of
local patients due to already inadequate manpower and facilities, the Health
Ministry does not properly supervise its implementation and has not passed
relevant legislation, according to a report the Knesset’s Research and
Information Center issued.
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) requested the
preparation of the 13-page report. The professional researchers stated that as
the ministry “does not have enough tools and resources to supervise medical
tourism, setting down clear rules on what is permitted and forbidden,”
supervision and monitoring are needed to prevent discrimination against
economically disadvantaged Israeli residents who cannot afford private
The Health Ministry, it said, uses the same monitoring of
medical tourism that it does of medical treatment for locals, no matter who pays
for the services and from where the patient comes.
The report presented
Tourism Ministry claims “there there is in Israel today no authority responsible
for medical tourism and that the narrow medical aspect should be separated from
the broader tourism aspect.” The Tourism Ministry, the report continued, has now
started do make such arrangements.
The medical establishments in India,
Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries with lower levels of
medical care than Israel are more advanced in serving medical tourists coming to
them, as they have set up quality councils and standards to ensure that
foreigners get what they pay for and expect.
Open-heart surgery costs an
average of $30,000 in the US and $4,000 in India.
According to the
Knesset report, while the Health Ministry does not have upto- date and accurate
figures on medical tourism in Israel, estimates based on 2007 to 2009 are used
in the report.
Medical tourism income constitutes 11 percent of all
service exports, the Tourism Ministry said. In 2009, about 23,000 foreigners
came here for nonurgent medical care such as plastic surgery and other elective
surgery; psychological and dental care; fertility treatment; consultations; and
urgent procedures such as organ transplants and cancer therapy and
One percent of foreign tourists came for medical care in 2009.
In 2007, medical tourism brought in about $50 million, and the average medical
tourist spent $4,777, compared to $1,083 by an ordinary tourist during his
The cost of medical procedures is much lower in Israel than in the
US, where medicine is private.
Most medical tourists to Israel come from
Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union, Eastern European
countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, Cyprus, Jordan and Turkey and
In Jerusalem’s medical centers, foreign tourists pay for legal
Sharap (private medical services), which limit private care to one-fifth of all
patients, but in government and other public hospitals, where private care is
not legal, they pay for care via the hospital’s “research funds.”
Knesset center said it is worthwhile to increase doctors’ and hospitals’ income
through medial tourism, but that it should not be at the expense of Israelis,
who through the National Health Insurance system are entitled to equitable
healthcare. As there are too few nurses and doctors specialties such as
anesthesiology, pathology and intensive care, the report’s authors concluded,
efforts must be made to “halt the growing gap and inequality in receipt of
medical care by Israelis.”
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has
come out publicly in favor of increasing medical tourism, but a few days ago in
an interview, Hebrew University Medical Faculty dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf
voiced his opposition. He charged that “Israel can’t afford this luxury,” and
feared that tourists would get special treatment and pressure on local hospitals
would increase without income being used to expand facilities for Israelis.