The High Court of Justice on Tuesday morning rejected the petition
of MK Shaul Yahalom, the Israel Medical Association, and ZVI Israel Health Consumers, who had asked for the cancellation of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's request to postpone the final decision on the health basket until after elections.
The judges took Mazuz's position, and advised the government to make a decision on the health basket immediately after elections.
Justice Edmond Levy was of the minority opinion, claiming that "to a sick man and his family, a delay of a few days is equivalent to an eternity."
Mazuz had informed the High Court of Justice on Monday that he would permit the Committee to Determine the Basket of Medicines to meet one day after the elections to give final approval to its list for 2006, thereby enabling the government to approve it a few days later.
In doing so, Mazuz removed the thorn from his decision last week to prohibit the committee from holding its final meeting on Thursday, March 16. Had it met then, the government could have approved the list at its regular cabinet meeting on Sunday, March 19.
His decision triggered two petitions to the High Court of Justice, one by the Israel Medical Association and ZVI Israel Health Consumers (an umbrella organization representing 60 groups of ill people) and NRP MK Shaul Yahalom. The petitioners called on the court to overrule Mazuz on the grounds that the delay in approving the new list of medicines could cause loss of life.
The petitioners were afraid that Mazuz would not allow the committee to meet until a new government was formed after the elections, a process likely to take one or two months. However, the Attorney-General made it clear in his response that the postponement would be brief.
"In view of the special nature of the issue at hand - that is, approval of medicines for the ill - and contrary to the guidelines given in other areas to prohibit decisions involving choosing priorities in the allocation of resources until the formation of a new government, the Attorney-General gave his approval for the committee to convene immediately after the elections," the state wrote in its response to the petitions. "And indeed, the committee scheduled its meeting for March 29, one day after the elections, and the government will be able to make its decision the following Sunday, April 2."
Mazuz prohibited the meeting last week on the grounds that a transitional government could not make the kind of far-reaching decisions that a regular government could because it did not depend on the Knesset for its existence (it could not be brought down by a vote of no-confidence), but on the basis of law alone.
Furthermore, Mazuz said in his response to the petition, "given that a transitional government is in power on the eve of elections, there is more than the usual concern of a conflict of interests and choosing narrow political interests over the public interest.
The inherent concern during election time, and certainly in the period when the election is so close, is that the decisions made by the government or by other elements will be affected by election considerations and not necessarily considerations that are pertinent to the decision at hand."
According to Meydad Gissin, the chairman of ZVI Israel Health Consumers, the committee has prepared three optional lists of medicines and medical technologies, one amounting to NIS 890 million, the second NIS 399m. and the third NIS 320m..
In August 2005, the government approved the sum of NIS 220m. for the basket of medicines for the coming fiscal year. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is also the minister of finance, told the committee and other health organizations in the past that the government would allocate NIS 220m. immediately, but that it would have to bring any request for a sum greater than that to the health minister, the finance minister and the government for approval.
Had the committee approved a list totaling NIS 220m., it could have received the funding immediately. But, according to Gissin, the committee said it could not in good conscience submit a list that was less than the smallest of the three options.
Even after the committee gives final approval of the list amounting to NIS 320m., as it is expected to do on March 29, the government has the power to grant a smaller sum. But Gissin told The Jerusalem Post
that Olmert had promised the committee the additional NIS 100m. to the committee.