Litzman won’t say if he’d condemn haredim if convicted

Meuhedet scandal: Health Ministry will now push for independent oversight of the health funds, director-general Gamzu says.

November 17, 2010 03:31
3 minute read.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman.

litzman 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

Health Ministry director-general Dr.Ronni Gamzu hopes that none of the one million members of the Meuhedet health fund will transfer to another insurer to protest management’s alleged corruption, he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Gamzu added that many Meuhedet members would have difficulty leaving, since they have been paying for years for optional long-term nursing insurance from Meuhedet and if they switch to another insurer, they will lose the rights and tenure in these policies.

Three of the four public health funds sell their own nursing insurance, while only Maccabi Health Services offers it from an independent insurance company, whose benefits can be enjoyed independently of Maccabi.

This loophole must be eliminated by the Treasury official responsible for supervising insurance, Gamzu said, since it limits the ability of many Israelis to transfer from one health fund to another, even though competition among the health funds is a goal of the government to improve service.

“During the next few months, I expect that the supervisor of insurance will reach a decision regarding this important issue,” he said.

But Gamzu said he is concerned that Meuhedet could become financially unstable if many younger members who don’t have nursing insurance switch out, after the state comptroller’s revelations Monday of alleged corruption, nepotism, conflict of interest and other crimes and misdemeanors by numerous senior health fund managers.

“I hope they will not punish the health fund,” he said. Rather, “some of the health fund leadership will have to examine what they have done and show their responsibility to the public.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – a United Torah Judaism MK who lives near the Lema’an Yerushalayim clinic that allegedly accepted Meuhedet funding to illegally transfer haredi families and yeshiva students to the health fund – refused to answer the Post when asked whether he was aware of the criminal activity.

The clinic on Rehov Malachi in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood spent millions of shekels from Meuhedet on haredi charities and support for yeshiva students, and this was apparently an open secret in the community.

Litzman also declined to say whether in the future, if haredim involved in the scandal are convicted, he would condemn them for their violations of state law – and Halacha.

While the Interior Ministry can replace failing mayors and local councils by appointing a professional team to run and rehabilitate a troubled city or town, there is no provision for such immediate, drastic action in the National Health Insurance Law of 1994, Gamzu said.

But after the health fund board convenes a meeting – which Gamzu has instructed Meuhedet to do immediately – to make decisions in response to the shocking, 286- page comptroller’s report, an “investigating committee” can be named to take over management responsibilities, he explained.

“What happens depends on the board’s responses,” he said.

Gamzu conceded that the ministry had not understood the importance of setting down new regulations that would require all the public health insurers to be supervised by corporate boards instead of supervising themselves.

The Finance Ministry regularly pushed the ministry to accept such a change through the annual economic arrangements bill, but health fund lobbyists persuaded the ministry that such changes were not necessary, and the Health Ministry considered it minor technicality, said Gamzu.

Now his ministry will seek these structural changes, and it has already persuaded the smallest and most financially troubled health fund, Kupat Holim Leumit, to implement them as part of a recovery program.

Under corporate rules, boards of directors will be independent, skilled people chosen by a committee headed by a judge and without any vested interests.

“That is the way today to do things, the corporate model,” Gamzu said.

Gamzu said the ministry’s course of action would be carefully prepared with legal advisers so that processes set down in the National Health Insurance Law are not violated, which could give serve Meuhedet managers an excuse not to observe the law or to take the ministry to the High Court of Justice.

“The games have ended and now is the time for systemic repair, including changes involving the names given in the report,” he declared.

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