(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Medical Association)
Citing an ineffective membership and an insufficient budget, Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar resigned on Saturday night from the public committee for recommending the expansion of the basket of drugs and medical technologies for 2008 - less than 24 hours before its first meeting in Jerusalem.
Blachar, who has been a member of the basket committees since they were first appointed in 1998, said it would be impossible for the committee to influence the government and to expand the basket, and that the funds allocated by the Treasury - a NIS 275 million expansion - were "less than half the amount needed" to offer important new lifesaving medical technologies to patients.
The four health funds must provide approved drugs and technologies to members who need them, at state expense.
Blachar attacked the choice of nominees and called the committee an "impotent" body chosen according to the Treasury's directives.
"These are dark days for the health system," he said a week ago when the 16 names were announced by the Health Ministry after approval by the Finance Ministry.
Seven of the 16 members were state employees who might have a conflict of interest, Blachar said. In the previous committee, only three of 21 received their salaries from the government.
Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri said he was sorry about Blachar's resignation and urged him to reconsider, but added that the panel would convene at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, "with Blachar or without him." Ben-Yizri rejected Blachar's criticism of the committee, whose recommendations are always followed by the government.
The IMA chairman said he was "not abandoning" his responsibilities to the public, and was resigning after consultation with colleagues and patients' groups about what to do to continue their struggle for decent health care.
"There is no representative of patients' groups, no social economist, no expert for general ethics matters and no representation of many medical fields, such as family physicians [on the panel]. And there is no hospital director," Blachar said.
The Treasury approved the members because most of them were "tame and won't make problems or ask for additions to the budget for medications," Blachar said, adding that the nominations were "final evidence of the Treasury's causing the Health Ministry's influence to shrink."
When Blachar initially voiced his criticism, Ben-Yizri "forcefully rejected its content," according to his personal spokesman, Tal Harel.
Ben-Yizri said he had "full faith in the professionalism and objectivity" of the new committee, which represented "all sectors, including the public, ethicists, top economists and the health funds."
The panel is headed by Prof. Menahem Fainaru, former dean of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and a senior medicine clinician; he replaces Prof. Mordechai Shani, a former Health Ministry and Sheba Medical Center director-general.
Many of the new committee members have never served before. The members, minus Blachar, are former deputy defense minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof; Dr. Rahel Adatto of the National Council for Women's Health; Prof. Adi Shani of the National Oncology Council; new Health Ministry medical division head Dr. Hezi Levi; Prof. Yehoshua Shemer of Maccabi Health Services; Dr. Andy Whiteman of Kupat Holim Leumit; Dr. Nicki Lieberman of Clalit Health Services; Dr. Ze'ev Abramson of Kupat Holim Meuhedet; health system ombudsman Etti Semama; ethicist Prof. Noam Zohar; Rabbi Yuval Cherlo; economist Reuven Kagan of the Treasury; economist Iris Ginsburg of the veteran pension funds; Health Ministry official Yoel Lifschitz; and Health Ministry planning and budgets director Ruth Ralbag.
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