Meuhedet’s breach of trust

Health insurers should be required by law to have independent corporate boards of directors rather than puppets, representatives of vested interests who sit in Meuhedet’s boardroom.

Meuhedet 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Meuhedet 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Kupat Holim Meuhedet’s motto – “With you, with all our hearts” – is doubtless still apt for most of the thousands of doctors, nurses and other professionals in the field who have made it a popular health fund that has amassed one million members.
But one cannot say the same of its senior management, whose alleged crimes and misdemeanors fill the special report on Meuhedet issued last week by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who described it as among the most severe he had ever issued.
If members of the three other public health funds were to read the report, they would get a sickly feeling from the administrators’ alleged corruption, nepotism, mismanagement, bribery, conflict of interest and lack of accountability and supervision as highlighted by the comptroller, who named names.
Meuhedet members – especially those who had requested lifesaving or life-extending drugs not in the basket of services and were turned down due to “lack of funds” – can only feel personally disgusted and betrayed by the people who were responsible for preserving their health and for daily making life-and-death decisions. The stomach turns still further when one hears about of an Israel Police detective and a Customs officials suspected of having been bribed by Meuhedet managers to help them avoid arrest.
Until 1995, Clalit Health Services, Maccabi Health Services, Meuhedet and Kupat Holim Leumit were like private clubs, accepting only those members they chose; often, they rejected people with serious medical problems. As two of the insurers were politically affiliated (Clalit with the Labor Party and the Histadrut, and Leumit with the Likud), some applicants were turned down even for political reasons.
But the National Health Insurance Law eliminated politics and forced the insurers to accept anyone who wanted to join. A universal basket of health services for all Israelis was established, with the National Insurance Institute distributing health taxes among the funds according to the number of members and their state of health (and now age as well). Health fund managers were thus given a public trust; if the comptroller is correct, those at Meuhedet have flagrantly violated it.
A sample of the alleged violations includes the supply of services and equipment without tenders to companies owned by managers’ relatives; paying off, though illegal contractors, tens of thousands of haredi yeshiva students and families for switching membership to Meuhedet because they are cheap to insure; and allowing the chief pharmacist to prevent the opening of a health fund pharmacy near his own shop, which he ran with Meuhedet pharmacists salaried by the health fund.
The entire edifice of corruption allegedly involves dozens of managers, goes back for a decade or more and apparently constitutes a loss to Meuhedet of hundreds of millions of shekels.
THE SECRET protocol of the board of directors’ first meeting, held the day after the report’s publication, – as revealed in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post – depicts Meuhedet managers interested primarily in saving their own skins and thinking that the “fuss” over the report will blow over. It must not.
Although the charges have not yet been proven, the sooner they suspend themselves or resign, the better.
They managed to run a successful health fund which showed no deficit over the last five years, thanks to the many young, healthy members who were not expensive to cover. The rest of the time, according to the comptroller, they worried about themselves and establishing a culture of thievery and deception.
The state comptroller should ask himself why his office did not discover the alleged scams earlier; it was informed about two years ago by Health Ministry Deputy Director- General Dr. Yoel Lipschitz, who had received information from a fed-up Meuhedet staffer. Although the comptroller’s office is very busy monitoring public institutions, it should have looked more quickly at the health funds, which annually receive tens of billions of shekels in health taxes.
Lipschitz, who monitors the health funds, said he had not been hired to suspect officials of being crooks and submitting phoney documents but rather to supervise their operations.
The ministry is not interested in Meuhedet members abandoning the fund en masse, as this would put the health system into limbo and weaken it, to the detriment of those who remain. What is needed is a new, untainted management in the form, at least temporarily, of a ministry-appointed board.
Indeed, all the health insurers should be required by law to have independent corporate boards of directors rather than the puppets and representatives of vested interests who sit in Meuhedet’s boardroom now. And members should have a say in how the health funds are run.