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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman, ministry professionals and public health experts on Thursday unanimously attacked the clauses in the Treasury's Economic Arrangements Bill relating to medical care that are backed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who is also economic strategy minister.
The United Torah Judaism chairman, who controls his ministry with Netanyahu as the nominal health minister, described the proposals as "disgusting" and declared: "It won't happen. I am sure that in the end, nothing of it will remain."
Litzman was referring to the Finance Ministry's announcement late Wednesday night that one of the proposals was a NIS 50-per-night copayment for hospitalization on all patients, young and old and including mothers who go to deliver their babies.
The National Health Insurance Law of 1994 bars hospitalization payments for conditions whose treatments are included in the basket of health services. Thus the Treasury is attempting to cancel a major precept in the law that was meant to promote equity. If the bill passes, it would set a precedent to charge additional copayments on health services.
The Treasury also said that the purchase of enough Tamiflu - the antiviral drug that minimizes complications among patients infected by swine (H1N1) flu and other influenza strains - to increase coverage to 30 percent of the population would be at the expense of the health basket. These drugs, which will cost NIS 30 million and are potent for just seven years, would be destroyed after the deadline if not used.
Dr. Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry's associate director-general, said it was not clear now whether the addition Tamiflu stocks were necessary or would be purchased, as the hysteria over the outbreaks in Mexico was calming down.
The ministry announced on Thursday that two additional cases - the fifth and sixth - of H1N1 flu had been found, but the patients, like the previous four, were feeling well and in no danger.
"All the ministry's health professionals back the deputy minister" in his opposition to the Arrangement Bill proposals that target health services, Lev said.
Litzman met with Netanyahu on Thursday to voice his protest over the Treasury proposals and said that while he understood the need to make budget cuts, they would pose great difficulties for public health. When Netanyahu nominated him for deputy health minister, he told Litzman that as he would not have a vote in the cabinet, he (Netanyahu) would vote on his behalf as Litzman wished. However, now their positions clash.
On Friday morning, the deputy minister will meet with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to complain about the proposals as well.
Litzman met on Thursday with the forum of hospital directors to discuss the Treasury's proposals and promised he would meet with them, and with directors of the four health funds, every month.
The National Council for the Child issued an angry statement on the Treasury's proposals, saying "they will destroy children's health."
Among the "shocking" proposals is the intention to cut drastically the number of job slots for nurses and doctors in the Tipat Halav (well-baby) network of clinics, it said. The council described the Treasury's "insane" proposals as "an unforgivable crime," adding that anyone who supports them "acts like an abusive parent who takes out all his frustration, crises and anger on his weakest child."
The council, headed by Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, called on all social movements and groups to unite to fight the clauses and lead a "broad civil and social uprising" against the Arrangement Bill proposals.
Physicians for Human Rights and the Adva Center for Civil Rights also issued a statement calling the proposals "cruel and lacking in all health or social logic," saying they would increase inequity between the rich and the needy.
The Treasury aims to save NIS 100m. by the end of 2010 by charging a hospitalization tax, which would be a "catastrophe" for patients with chronic illness who need repeated hospitalization to remain alive. Those with cardiac insufficiency and respiratory problems would have to pay up to NIS 600 a year for recurrent hospitalizations, they said.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and NEEMAN, the voluntary support organization for stroke victims, said the Treasury's plan to limit the number of specialized stroke units in hospitals would lead to many deaths and disabilities. Special treatment given quickly to stroke victims can minimize or even eliminate disability; if they don't get it, those who survive can become permanently and severely disabled, putting a burden on their families and the health and welfare systems, they said.
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