Netanyahu cabinet 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The cabinet voted unanimously on Sunday to approve Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s program for subsidized dental care for children up to the age of eight, but a major change was introduced by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, allowing private and voluntary organization dentists to treat children, not just the four public health funds.
Dental care for all children was to have been included in the basket of health services established in 1995 by the National Health Insurance Law, but it was then vetoed by the Treasury.
Now the Finance Ministry is in favor. Its earlier opposition turned out to be short-sighted, as children with toothaches and damaged teeth cannot function properly and if their mouths go untreated, the resulting medical conditions will cost even more to deal with.
The new program will go into effect in July. The funding is based on NIS 67 million shifted late last year from the expansion of the medical technologies basket for 2010, plus additional money from the Treasury, for a total of NIS 150m.
Not all the services will be free. Twice-yearly checkups, a cleaning and twice-yearly x-rays of the dental bite will be free, but fillings, extractions and other services will cost NIS 20 each, with a maximum of NIS 40 per child for each session.
However, free or subsidized dental care for children will be – in principle – permanently added to the basket of health services. In addition, NIS 20m. more from the government will be allocated to educate children and their parents in schools, family health clinics and dental clinics on preventive dental care.
If the program gets more support from the Treasury in the future, children older than eight might be included. If such services are granted to all up to the age of 18, it would cost some NIS 500m., according to Health Ministry estimates.
The Treasury will have to allocate money for dental supervisors, who will ensure that treatment is professional and that unneeded treatments are not performed.
The Israel Dental Association, which is controlled by private dentists, had strongly protested against the original plan that included only health fund dentists, noting that very few dental specialists are employed by the health funds.
The Israel Dental Association also argued that there are not enough health fund dental clinics in the periphery, and that the law must be implemented equitably.
Thus it welcomed Ben-Eliezer’s insistence that the National Health Insurance Law be changed to allow independent dentists to qualify for the program, which will significantly increase access to care. However, the details for making this possible have not yet been worked out.
The Israel Medical Association argued before the vote that the plan as formulated was not legal. The Israel Medical Association was particularly upset that Litzman had set a precedent for “raiding” the medical technologies allocations to provide other services.
The Dolev Foundation for Medical Justice has petitioned the High Court of Justice against certain aspects of the dental program. Nevertheless, on Sunday it congratulated the government for its decision, even though it was “only partial” because it stopped at age eight and some treatments will be only subsidized and not free.