Leadership time for Bibi: Start reimbursing Hadassah fairly

Having worsened the Hadassah hospital crisis by extending unfairly low reimbursements for consistently superior medical care, Israel’s government now risks bungling the response. Hippocrates was right. Like any physician’s basic ethical obligation, a leader must first do no harm. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition colleagues will stain their records permanently if they destroy these national treasures.


Foolish talk of nationalizing these internationally esteemed assets risks applying twentieth-century Soviet illogic to fix one of Israel’s leading, twenty-first century institutions.  Treasury officials’ bullying talk of “dismantling” them risks imposing Vietnam-era unreason, destroying a village to save it. Hadassah hospitals are too big to fail and too important to ruin.


It is leadership time for the Prime Minister, Treasury Minister, and Health Minister; time to save these centers of medical excellence and Zionist pride at Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus – and their unique public-private partnership.


This entire crisis is a story of inequity – Hadassah being treated unfairly in government supervised insurance reimbursements along with caps on the reimbursements. It can all be reduced to one number, 220,000,000, the number of shekels representing the annual shortfall in reimbursements because Hadassah is paid at a lower rate than other Israeli hospitals. The gap is especially shocking considering that the government never spent any money building these hospitals.  Had Hadassah been paid out fairly over the last three years, the 660 million shekels would have more than covered any deficits.


The Internet’s most popular Hadassah joke imagines a busload of Hadassah ladies crashing – with a bureaucratic mess in Heaven then dispatching the women temporarily to Hell. Within hours, Satan begs Heaven to accept them immediately. “They are ruining my set-up,” the Devil grumbles. “They’ve already raised $100,000 for a new air conditioning system.”


Since 1912, Hadassah has been a constructive disruptor worldwide, with a sterling brand name telegraphing remarkable generosity, sweeping vision, and exceptional results. In the US, the miracle makers of Hadassah, The Women''s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) are renowned for their formidable fundraising, organizational, and educational skills, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of women to raise billions of dollars over the decades, expressing their commitment to Zionism and Israel. In Israel, the miracle-makers of Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) are known for their extraordinary medical and research skills, healing patients en masse while serving humanity with pathbreaking life-saving techniques.
Hadassah women and Hadassah doctors have always been pioneers. Their partnership helped build the State of Israel, providing what started as a Third World country with first-rate medical services.  Today, these pioneering funders and practitioners continue producing medical advances while creating a vision of the Israel that could be and should be.


Both the Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus campuses showcase Israel at its democratic, pluralistic, humanistic and Zionist best. Hadassah hospitals offer a taste of heaven, a glimpse of the Biblical vision whereby people simply get along, regardless of religious, national, ethnic, or ideological differences. Even during the worst bouts of the Palestinian terrorism, Hadassah was such an impressive oasis of Jews and Arabs together treating Jews and Arabs equally, it was clear to many of us that Hadassah deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.


Tragically, after embodying the Zionist success story for 102 years, “Hadassah” recently has become associated with ugly words like strike, deficit, and mismanagement. For too long, HMO administrators and Israeli government officials acted as if the Hadassah money train powered by a booming stock market would keep delivering cash to cover any missteps, excesses or shortfalls. HWZOA should have been more vigilant with oversight; HMO should have been more exacting in budgeting, more demanding in governmental negotiations, and tougher with the unions. Even in flusher times, donations should have been limited to capital improvements not operating costs – the hospitals should run on their own revenues and grants, with Hadassah funding the extras, the expansions, the big leaps forward, not daily expenses.


As early as 2007, before Bernard Madoff’s swindle was exposed and America’s financial system crashed, Hadassah’s leaders, warning that the boom would not last forever, demanded reform. When HWZOA women tried removing the overpaid, underperforming HMO Director General, members of the Israeli medical establishment stood by their man, dismissing the women from abroad as mere meddlers and check-writers who should know their place, even though they were correct. Nevertheless, since 2007, Hadassah has been implementing widespread reforms based on a top-to-bottom assessment.


Zionism is a story of Jews from all over the world contributing money, expertise, and love to build extraordinary institutions like the Hadassah hospitals. But Zionism is also the story of Israel becoming self-sufficient and taking care of its own citizens.


This crisis is not only a test of the government to see whether Israel’s current leadership can fix this problem boldly, intelligently, fairly. This crisis is also a test of Israeli society, to see if the country has matured enough to accept full responsibility for its citizens’ healthcare, while appreciating the unbelievable largesse from abroad.


With that model in mind, conscious of the fact that Jerusalem’s residents have benefitted from two hospitals built with overseas gifts, the government should cover the deficit, start reimbursing the hospital fairly, lift the burdensome caps which penalize the hospitals for working at full capacity, and let Hadassah do what Hadassah does best – raise money, awareness and pride abroad, while serving Israelis – and humanity – with first rate research and medical care in Jerusalem.


For the last few months, as in the joke, a bureaucratic mess has wrongly routed Hadassah to Hell. Rather than Satan calling on the heavens above, we as citizens of Israel – and conscientious lovers of Zion – must call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government – to redeem Hadassah immediately, so Hadassah’s miracle makers can continue their extraordinary work.      


Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of eight books on US History, including Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism recently published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!