Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A recent article by MK Itzik Shmuli titled “Israel abandons its elderly” caught my attention – first because I am elderly, and second because I recognized the author’s name.
In the summer of 2011, Shmuli, then chairman of Israel’s National Union of Students, was one of the leaders of what became known as “The Summer of Discontent.”
Many will remember up-market Rothschild Boulevard looking like a camp site for the duration of that summer.
Across the religious, political and age divide, protesters came out on the streets demanding social justice and a lower cost of living. This culminated on a Saturday night in September when 430,000 demonstrated throughout Israel.
Has anything changed since that summer? It is a grave disappointment that successive governments have done nothing in the intervening years to lower the cost of living. The high price of food in our supermarkets is beyond comprehension, whilst affordable housing remains a dream for too many. Perhaps the only positive result is that an ex-student leader became an MK hoping to make a difference.
His article came to life when we visited a good friend – a senior citizen – who following a fall necessitated a knee operation that had left him incapacitated for some months. His leg is strapped from the foot to the thigh.
Whilst able to walk a little, it remains difficult to carry out many tasks independently, while putting on and taking off the leg “contraption” is exceedingly challenging.
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As a contributor to both the National Insurance Institute and Maccabi Health Fund, his health insurer, he was under the impression that he would be provided with some help at home especially at the beginning of his recuperation.
This feeling was endorsed when he was approached by a kindly lady who said she worked on behalf of the NII. She informed him that he was entitled to receive physical help during his recovery period. However when she learned that his income was not below NIS 21,000 a month, she told him that he did not qualify for any help. She suggested he should apply for private support.
Speaking with various agencies, he was informed that a helper could be provided working for a minimum of six hours per day at a cost of NIS 70 per hour. Maccabi gave him the same information. Whilst he would have considered paying for help each morning – to assist with showering and his leg contraption – he did not see the necessity of employing someone for six hours a day. He also discovered that for those who qualify for help, the reality is that what is on offer is totally inadequate.
Our friend’s story is not unique. I spoke with “Aviva” (a pseudonym) who told me of her late father “Chaim’s” experience. Chaim had paid NII and health fund contributions throughout his entire working life, without ever claiming one shekel. He was a proudly independent man who loved giving to others, and was especially happy volunteering to help those in need.
At the age of 87 he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. Aside from one week in the hospital, he remained at home. His wife, in her 80s, was herself not in the best of health. The family recognized the need for help. Initially they applied to the NII, which sent a representative to their parents’ home. It turned out to be a humiliating and denigrating experience for the sick patient, his wife and members of the family.
The first question the representative asked Chaim was “Can you shave yourself?” His response – more out of embarrassment than truth was “yes.” This question turned out to be the catalyst for refusing to give any assistance. Years of payment to the NII meant nothing – because that is precisely what was received following the grossly demeaning interview. The family was expected to manage on its own. They had suffered this visit plus having to complete mounds of paperwork, all to no avail.
At this point the family decided to approach their health fund representative.
Again, after yet another “cross examination” interview, they were told that their father was not eligible to receive support at this time, but promised to review the situation at the end of three months. It was almost exactly three months later that Chaim died.
What is clear is that the state will do all it can to avoid the necessity of giving financial assistance irrespective of a lifetime of contribution to the National Insurance Institute. Not only is the individual seeking help being means tested, but so is the entire family including children and in-laws. This, together with health funds that outsource social care for the elderly to private insurance companies concerned with making a profit, ensures the patient continues to give but not to receive.
Back to the beginning: in 2011, Shmuli was a student who today as an MK is still battling for the rights of the individual.
If he has not already done so, perhaps the time has come to bring his findings, together with mine, to the attention of the Knesset in which he serves. Who knows what might result; this is, after all, the land of miracles. The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. She is also active in public affairs.
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