There was wall-to-wall support on Tuesday for the bill to establish basic geriatric nursing care by increasing health taxes by 0.5 percent, but the main opponent – the Treasury – was not present at a conference in the Knesset that discussed it.

The reform was initiated 16 years ago by Haim Oron, then an MK of Meretz who retired last year as the party chairman, but he was present at the discussion held by Ken Lazaken (Yes to the Elderly), a roof body of supporters of the reform.

More recently, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman strongly backed the legislation, which aims for implementation in three years but faces strong opposition from the Finance Ministry. The ministry apparently does not want to increase public expenditure or raise taxes.

The session, held in the Knesset House Committee room, was chaired by Labor MK Isaac Herzog and Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz.

The bill, if passed and implemented gradually, would come just in time to relieve the unbearable costs to the middle and lower classes of caring for the sick and disabled elderly, and reduce red tape that requires families to go to many different authorities to seek aid. Instead, the Health Ministry and the public health funds will take over responsibility for supervising and providing geriatric nursing care in hospitals and the community. The major reform to simplify bureaucracy and expand geriatric nursing care could head off a “tsunami of elderly” (due to increasing longevity in the coming decades).

Litzman received wide support and praise from the dozens of people – representatives of groups of pensioners as well as MKs from a variety of parties – for standing behind the bill.

“I don’t agree with Litzman on many things,” said Hadash MK Dov Henin. “But if we get this bill passed, it will have a lot of significance. It is the right thing to do as a matter of human values. The elderly have to be treated properly. There are many people who don’t get what they deserve.

People have paid [their health fund or private insurance companies] for many years, and when they need it, they get too little.”

Only Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum, who left for another meeting not long after the conference began, voiced her opposition to the bill in its present form – while supporting unifying geriatric nursing care. She said there were not enough geriatric hospital beds and that health taxes could rise as much as 2% as a result.

“You have to prepare the infrastructure for this. It is too early,” Kirschenbaum said.

All present agreed that the aging of the population would put severe pressure on existing geriatric institutions, and that the present way of funding this care – with adult children, spouses and even sons- and daughters-inlaw having to pay thousands of shekels a month to contribute to institutional costs – caused severe financial burdens and family rifts.

Criticism of private insurance companies for being eager to sign up young members for their geriatric nursing policies, but doing all they could to find the “fine print” in policies to hold back benefits, was voiced around the table.

Some participants argued that more must be done to provide assistance to the elderly who want to remain at home – and thus save the public purse money – instead of spending the rest of their lives in a geriatric institution.

Litzman, who uncharacteristically raised his voice and waved his arms on several occasions, promised that most people would pay about NIS 30 a month for geriatric nursing and no one would have to spend more than NIS 150 per month. “The Treasury threatens not to agree, but it won’t help. The public wants this reform,” he said.

Labor MK Avishay Braverman said he was worried about Treasury interference with the legislation, but “it is a private bill. We have to support it.”

A few days ago, the US Supreme Court decided to recognize the legality of the Obama administration’s legislation to ensure health insurance for all. “Israel and its health system were an example for the US. Our health insurance is much more advanced than America’s. We know not to throw the poor to the dogs.

Geriatric nursing care has fallen between chairs. There must be a single authority in charge and clear financing sources. Litzman, you can get it to pass in the Knesset,” Braverman said.

United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said that some reforms, such as that of water, “failed, but this will succeed because it all stems from the value of helping the elderly. People worked all their lives but don’t know how they will finish them. There is a large gap because what insurers promise and what people get. They have no strength to fight the companies.”

Litzman concluded that he thought many MKs knew too few details about the bill. He added that he would try to persuade the coalition to back it.

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