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The Israel Medical Association (IMA) filed a petition in the High Court of Justice on Sunday against the government's aim to transfer control of the Health Ministry's community and hospital outpatient mental health clinics to a private company by Tuesday.
The company in question, the Public Health Association (PHA), has been roundly criticized by both the state comptroller and the Health Ministry for failing to provide even basic immunizations in schools since it took over school health services from the ministry.
In the petition, the IMA charged that the PHA was financially motivated and that the Treasury had initiated and pushed the changeover to save money without considering the interest of patients or the workers.
The medical association said the Treasury was taking action now to avoid opposition by the public and the health authorities during the transition from one government to another.
A few months ago, a subcommittee of the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee voiced strong disapproval of the Treasury's plans.
The IMA argued through its lawyers that the National Health Insurance Law put responsibility for psychiatric services in the hands of the Health Ministry, which has tried for years to give the four public health funds responsibility for providing all mental health services to their members.
This, the Health Ministry and the health funds have argued, would make psychiatric illness just like any physical illness and reduce stigma, but the health funds are demanding extra funding for taking over this task.
Despite announcements by previous health ministers that the transfer to a private company would "soon" take effect, the ministry has failed to get Knesset approval for an amendment to the National Health Insurance Law enabling such a transfer.
Instead, the Finance Ministry is attempting to get the PHA to handle it immediately as an interim arrangement, and the Health Ministry has failed to put up a fight.
More recently, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich warned outgoing Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri that the plans to privatize services would be harmful, but he didn't listen, the IMA said.
The IMA argued that the PHS was nothing more than a "manpower company" that the state used to pay doctors and nurses without their being ministry staffers.
The PHS, said the medical association, "did not compete in any public tender" for running the mental health clinics. Therefore, it maintained, the Treasury wanted to turn clinic workers into contracted workers without staff members' rights to social benefits.
Last week, Kadima MK Rachel Adato attacked the Finance and Health ministries for pushing the transfer while bypassing the legislative process, harming people with mental illnesses and clinic staff.
Adato, a gynecologist, said the agreement would set limits on the number of treatments and cut costs having nothing to do with mental health care.
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