Ya'acov Litzman speaks to an audience at Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama Hotel.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers and psychologists who are due to work for the four health funds as part of a long-awaited psychiatric health care reform starting on Wednesday will mark the day by launching open-ended sanctions, including a refusal to collect forms committing the insurers to pay.
Their unions say the academically trained professionals are concerned that the reform will not ensure their status and vocational security. The unions blame the Health Ministry for “refusing to sign a collective agreement that would ensure the status and future of the social workers and psychologists” – even though the labor court dealing with the issue ordered the it to conduct serious negotiations on the matter.
They accused the ministry of “foot-dragging and establishing conditions that will bring about the drying up of mental health stations – and even their closure – within a short time.”
A few weeks ago, the Histadrut and academic unions declared a work dispute over the reform.
In an unusual step, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formally is the health minister, will hold a press conference to discuss the reform on Wednesday morning at the ministry with Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman. Litzman runs the ministry, and Netanyahu, although having been in this position before, is not deeply involved in its issues and daily work.
Asked to comment on the sanctions, the ministry said it was taking part in a process of negotiations with the unions.
“All the psychiatric hospitals and clinics will function normally, and patients will not be harmed,” the ministry spokeswoman said.
The health funds are assuming responsibility for mental- health care 26 years after a state commission suggested they do so, and more than two decades following the launch of the 1994 National Health Insurance Law, which in part was meant to implement such a move. The law was intended to add both psychiatric and geriatric care to the basket of health services along with regular medical care, but at the time it was considered too complicated to implement all three, and only general medical care was included. Various mental-health professional groups have objected to the way the move is being carrying out.
Litzman declared that “there will be no delays” and that various changes might be carried out, as lessons are learned from the transfer. The purpose of the reform, the deputy health minister said, was to significantly improve the quality, accessibility and availability of mental health services.
The family physician (or pediatrician, in the case of minors) will probably refer people in need of care to mental health clinics, while patients with acute conditions could go directly to outpatient clinics or psychiatric emergency rooms if needed. The reform is aimed at reducing waiting times for treatment, especially in the periphery and for children suffering from psychological or psychiatric problems, and at minimizing the stigma of receiving such care.
As part of the transfer, the health funds will have NIS 1.9 billion at their disposal each year for mental health care, some NIS 420 million more than the ministry previously budgeted for such services. Patients will pay only the small quarterly charge for seeing a specialist physician.
If an individual prefers to go to a private mental health professional, he will pay NIS 130 per visit.