The government voted unanimously on Sunday to take NIS 65 million from the NIS 415m. expansion of the 2010 basket of medical technologies, following a long discussion, after a phone vote last week also indicated a majority in favor.
The NIS 65m., according to a proposal from Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman, will provide dental care for an as-yet undecided number of children and youths. The deputy minister announced that when his plan for dental care is about to be implemented, he will provide the government with details.
The 16-member public committee to recommend expansion of the basket met on Sunday afternoon and evening, trying to reset priorities as the money at their disposal for 2010 will be only NIS 350m. About five of the members opposed the reduction of the increment for the basket, but decided not to resign, saying such an act would be ineffective. Instead, they are thinking of alternative ways to voice their protest against the first time when, they charged, that politics has interfered with professional decisions on priorities.
Dr. Bracha Zisser, a member of the basket committee who heads the Ezer Mizion National Bone Marrow Databank, said the committee had been turned into a "toothless body that cannot take real decisions."
Nevertheless, the opponents on the committee sat down to pare down its previous list of drug recommendations.
Some 30 people - senior physicians and representatives of patient groups - demonstrated outside the meeting of the basket committee in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Their placards stated: "Enough politics on the back of the sick" and "We will fight to the last drug."
Some of the protesters voiced their personal disappointment to committee chairman Prof. Rafael Beyar, director-general of the state-owned Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and a leading interventional cardiologist there.
Beyar recently sent a letter to Litzman, a Ger hassid and Agudat Yisrael MK, saying he supports state funding for dental care for children but was sorry that it will be funded by the basket. He added that he hoped "this will not happen in the future."
The Rambam physician admitted he was not happy with the way in which the budget for dental care was taken from the basket increment.
Kadima MK Rachel Adato, a physician and attorney by training, reacted angrily to the vote, saying she was "sorry that in light of day, the cabinet approved a harmful decision that will serve as a lasting precedent, allowing the Treasury to take advantage of the increment to the basket for any purpose it wishes. Adato, Labor MK Yuli Tamir and Meretz MK Haim Oron are the main Knesset opponents to the decision, while outside, the Israel Medical Association, the Israel Dental Association and patients' groups are fighting the decision.
Critics say that Litzman is primarily interested in free dental care for haredi children, who constitute between a quarter and a third of Israeli children, and wants "to score points with haredi voters."
Some also suggest that a serious public education campaign to teach haredi (and other) parents not to feed their children cheap junk food, especially in honor of Shabbat and holidays, that promotes cavities and to brush their teeth regularly would have a much greater effect in the long-term than some free filling of cavities and temporary crowns. In addition, some parents put their young children to sleep with a bottle of sweet juice that can destroy milk teeth.
Patients' groups and medical specialists pleaded for the NIS 415 increment to the basket, arguing that it would be significant for patients suffering from cancer, osteoporosis and others who need lifesaving and life-improving drugs.