Israel’s population is younger, lives longer and is less obese than those of other OECD countries, but the rates of hospital beds, nurses and medical budgets are significantly lower than in its counterparts.

These were the results of the 2012 comparison of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members, released for publication on Thursday.

The comparison of health characteristics and health systems – the second involving Israel since the Jewish state became a full-fledged OECD member in September 2010 – hints that the positive Israeli results are only somewhat connected to the country’s health system, while the negative ones are the result of government policy such as relatively low health expenditure and medical manpower rates. Nir Kaidar – who, along with Daniella Arieli and Dr.
Tuvia Horev, provided the Health Ministry statistics for the comparison – confirmed this. Other positive influences on Israeli health include the Mediterranean diet, climate, lifestyle and even religious observance.

Israelis are younger than the average in OECD countries, with children up to age 14 accounting for 28 percent of the population – the second- highest rate in the OECD – compared to the OECD average of 15.3%.

But since 10% of Israelis are aged 65 and over compared to 15.3% in the OECD, the “dependence index” of young children and older, pensionage adults means that 61.1% of Israelis are not of working age. This is the highest percentage in the OECD countries.

Israeli life expectancy is among the highest in the OECD, standing at 79.7 for Israeli men compared to 76.9 in the economic organization in general.

It is thus the second-highest for men in the OECD. But among Israeli women, the gap is much smaller – 83.6 years compared to 82.5 years – so Israeli women rank only eighth.

Infant mortality in Israel is relatively low – 3.7 infant deaths per 1,000 compared to the 4.3 average. It is thus lower than in the US and Britain, but higher than in Spain, Greece and Scandinavia.

The Israeli health system’s bad marks include its low hospital bed rate of 1.9 per 1,000 residents compared to the OECD average of 3.4, and the average hospital stay of four days compared to the 6.3 OECD average. As a result of the high hospital occupancy rate of 96.3% here compared to the OECD’s 75.9%, patients are often sent home prematurely, and some have to be rehospitalized.

The rate of nurses compared to the population is only 4.8 per 1,000 here, while the OECD average is almost twice as high. Health expenditures in Israel are only 7.9% of the GDP compared to 9.6% in the average OECD country. The rate of public expenditure for health services is especially low, only 58.5% here compared to 71.7%.

While overweight and obesity rates are lower here than in the US, Israel’s self-reported rates of these phenomena are growing, and as these reflect future heart and other disease rates, this is worrisome.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman reiterated that he had “reached agreement” with the Treasury to add 1,000 hospital beds in recent years. However, according to his critics, there has not been a single one added in more than a year.

Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that while Israel ranked high in various important health comparisons, it still faced major challenges in reducing overweight, smoking and alcohol use and expanding medical manpower. The fact that public health expenditure is relatively low, he continued, “strengthens our argument for [the government to] add resources to the public health system. This is vital for preserving the quality of medical services and boosting equity in the health system.”

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