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The National Council for the Child demanded Thursday that the National Health Insurance Law be changed to include dental care for those under 18 in the basket of health services.
The council, headed by Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, issued its first position paper on the subject. One health fund, Maccabi Health Services, recently launched a program giving free dental care to the children included among its 1.3 million members, but the other insurers charge for dental services.
Israelis spend over NIS 400m. a year on dental care each year, but 95 percent are out-of-pocket expenses, with only five percent covered by the government - compared to 80% covered by the state in Japan, 60% in Germany, 34% in France and 19% in Denmark. In the US, 56% of the population have dental insurance (mostly as part of employee benefits) compared to only eight percent in Israel. In Britain, the basket of health services includes dental care for all.
Kadman noted that the Netanyahu State Judicial Commission on the Health System of 1994 recommended including dental care, at least for children and teenagers, in the basket, but even though most of its recommendations were implemented as part of the 1994 National Health Insurance Law, dental coverage was not.
He noted that while preventive dental care for children was included in the law, it was not implemented by more than 30% of the local authorities. Only some of the poor are able to go to free or subsidized dental clinics run by voluntary organizations, he said.
Only half of all Israeli children - and just a quarter of the Beduin - visit the dentist at least once a year (twice a year is recommended). A fifth don't brush their teeth before going to bed.
Neglect of dental health, said Kadman, not only hurts now and reduces the quality of school work, but has long-term implications on children's dental and physical health, as periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other physical disorders.
The council said that the Health Ministry must supervise community organizations in a dental education program for children. According to the council, the four health funds must be reimbursed by the Treasury for providing children with dental care.
In order to allow the ministry to cope with the costs of such a program, the education campaign can be introduced gradually - either by giving priority to certain types of treatment or in its entirety to disadvantaged communities, the council said.