The long-awaited transfer of responsibility for psychiatric services from the Health Ministry to the four health funds - so that mental illness will be treated like any physical disorder - will be carried out in January 2007.
This was decided Sunday by the cabinet, which voted on a proposal presented jointly by Health Minister Ya'acov Edri and Finance Minister and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Implementation of the reform - first proposed more than 15 years ago by the State Judicial Commission on the Health System, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Shoshana Netanyahu - was delayed due to Treasury opposition. Treasury officials feared that it would cost the public purse too much money. But Olmert, a former health minister, understood the urgently of the plan and helped push it through, together with Edri, who took office only a few weeks ago.
A major change in psychiatric services, in which fewer patients are hospitalized for months or years and instead are treated on an outpatient basis or given places to live in hostels in the community, has been carried out in recent years. The rate of hospitalization days for psychiatric patients is now 220 per 1,000 compared to 922 per 1,000 in 1968. The average amount of time that psychiatric patients who are hospitalized remain inpatients has dropped significantly to 71 days.
Edri said he regarded it as vital for psychiatric illnesses to be treated like systemic, bodily illnesses.
So far, reforms that put the focus on community care have been successful, with many people leaving psychiatric hospitals and being reintegrated into their communities.