A private member's bill to automatically update the basket of health services by two percent a year - described by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) as "the most humanitarian in the state's history" - passed on its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Monday. The bill, whose passing means the difference between life and death for thousands of people, was initiated by Meretz MK Haim Oron, chairman of the Knesset's public health lobby, and approved by 56 MKs. Since the National Health Insurance Law went into effect in January 1995, no new drugs and technologies have been added without hard-won Treasury approval for allocating additional state funds and recommendations by a public committee appointed by the finance and health ministers of what to add. The health basket includes all the medications and treatments that the health funds are required to provide their members, in exchange for health taxes, partially with Treasury subsidies. But every year, Health Ministry officials have to beg Treasury budget officials - with their hats in their hands - for an increase in funds to expand the basket. In some years, nothing has been added. In an average year, it is increased by about one percent, while most Western countries with national health insurance automatically increase their baskets by two percent annually. The Health Ministry, however, has never initiated a government bill for automatic updating because of Treasury opposition. This time Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri was among those voting for the bill. The ICA said that full passage of the bill will be an "historic and significant decision for cancer patients who are forced to fight every year for budget for cancer drugs. Then they will be able to invest all their energies in overcoming their disease." The Israel Medical Association commented that annual automatic updating of the basket by 2% "will make it possible to catch up with the gap" between actual allocations and yearly advances in medical technologies. Such a law "will end the embarrassing situation in which the basket is controlled by a rigid Treasury that that sometimes agrees to update the basket somewhat and sometimes refuses." Meanwhile, the public committee that will recommend how to spend the NIS 430 million in state money to expand the 2009 basket held its first meeting on Monday. More than 430 new lifesaving and life-improving drugs and technologies have been proposed for addition to the basket. The committee's recommendations are due to be ready before the end of the year. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel commented that if passed, the Oron bill will "protect the quality of Israeli health services from Treasury bureaucrats; the lives of thousands will be saved and the quality of life of thousands more will improve. The right to health is a basic one, but it has been neglected" for many years by MKs, who have now proved their commitment to protecting public health.