The long-awaited reform that would transfer responsibility for psychiatric care from the Health Ministry to the four public health funds is getting “much closer” to implementation, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman announced Monday, saying he had persuaded Clalit Health Services – the largest insurer, covering 52 percent of the population – to agree to it.

Asked to clarify, Litzman’s spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenbaum said that “nothing has been concluded. It is a process, and it is a very advanced stage, but the other health funds have not agreed yet.”

Litzman made his announcement on Monday at a conference on capitation and the health funds organized by the National Institute for Health Policy Research. Chairing the conference at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute was new National Insurance Institute director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.

The deputy health minister said that initially he had not been enthusiastic about the reform, but had realized about two years ago that what was taking place in the absence of the reform was a “catastrophe,” with long waits for psychiatric care in the community, especially for children.

As the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee made no progress on a bill, and the Finance Ministry still opposes it, Litzman decided to push the program through a back door and get the cabinet to approve it. But the other three health funds have not yet voiced their consent.

Under the reform, psychiatric illness will be regarded in the same way as a physical illness and be included in the basket of health services that the health funds provide. But implementation requires an injection of funds from the Treasury.

“I wanted to do it through the Knesset committee, but it was delayed, so we will do it alone,” Litzman said. “We will reach agreement with all the health funds and then bring it for approval.”

He also announced that he would fight for a reduction in the costs young families had to pay for baby formula and diapers.

“I had a discussion with my director-general, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, on the high price of baby formula,” he said. “It has to be reduced. There is no reason in the world for such a cost; it must be lower for the consumer.”

He said he had met with the Treasury official in charge of monopolies. “We do not have to wait for social demonstrations.

We can lower prices [of baby formula and diapers] so all are satisfied.”

Shimron-Greenbaum did not say why Litzman intends to intervene in the price of diapers, which is not under the Health Ministry aegis.

Litzman also announced that in a few months, his dental care plan for children will expand to cover those up to the age of 12, rather than 10, as is the case today.

“Eventually, it will cover all minors up to the age of 18,” he said, claiming that this reform was very popular.

However, there has been criticism from professionals that the program could have been better devoted to prevention of dental decay in children; that the ministry has refused to allow academic institutions to conduct independent research on whether the reform is effective; that the health funds previously offered subsidized dental care to children with supplementary health insurance; and that because private pediatric dentists were not included in the scheme, many say their dental practices are collapsing.

The deputy health minister said that a third reform, involving financing for geriatric care, was also on his agenda. It would raise health taxes by half a percent, he said, so that residents would get basic care in their old age without their adult children having to share costs of hospitalization.

Shimron-Greenbaum said Litzman’s proposed funding reform of geriatric nursing had been sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally the health minister.

Netanyahu will have to decide if he backs Litzman or Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who strongly opposes raising taxes.

“Netanyahu has the material, and he is studying it,” she said.

A Health Page feature on the Van Leer conference on capitation will appear on Sunday.

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