Our health services lack 'cultural competency' to help immigrants, says MK

In the past years, 48 percent of immigrants joined Maccabi Health Fund, 37% Clalit, 17% Meuhedet and 5% Leumit.

March 17, 2016 05:44
2 minute read.
MK Avraham Neguise

MK Avraham Neguise. (photo credit: BERNARD DICHEK)


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The Health Ministry must “punish” the health funds that fail to translate information into foreign languages, the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee has decided.

Committee chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) said that accessible information is vital for immigrants in choosing a health fund immediately after their arrival, even at the airport.

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“Information in other languages [besides Hebrew and Arabic] is not available on many websites, and the ministry does not supervise this,” he charged, even though it issued such instructions last year.

There is not even a final completion date, Neguise said.

Dr. Nurit Yachimovich-Cohen of the Knesset’s Research and Information Center said that most immigrants received information in advance about health funds from their friends and relatives, their aliya emissaries and those health fund websites that are at least partially translated into various languages.

Some would-be immigrants even check whether specific health funds will supply certain drugs and other medical technologies.

In the past years, 48 percent of immigrants joined Maccabi Health Fund, 37% Clalit, 17% Meuhedet and 5% Leumit.

However, Sara Cohen, an Immigration and Absorption Ministry official, said her office publishes booklets in many languages on the health system.

Ronen Foxman of Nefesh B’nefesh, which facilities immigration from North America and the UK, said “immigrants do not understand terms we take for granted.

Most choose a health fund according to recommendations from relatives, but it is partial and inadequate.”

He called on every insurer to answer potential immigrants’ questions by email and phone.

Dr. Emma Aberbuch of the Health Ministry said its website has much information in four languages, and its phone center offers speakers of several languages more.

“This year, we will supervise the health funds in cultural competency, especially in dealing with newcomers,” she promised.

A representative of immigrant associations, Esther Bloom, warned that “comparisons of the health baskets of the four health funds don’t exist. The ministry must publish this information in an objective way.”

“In addition,” she said, “many immigrants have difficulty finding psychiatrists speaking their mother tongues, and psychologists who themselves come on aliya have trouble passing clinical specialization because of tasks heaped on them by the ministry before they can start working.”

Representatives of the health funds told the committee that they even send emissaries to aliya fairs abroad and give out their personal business cards so they can be contacted later.

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