Health system officials' blood pressures rose on Sunday as the National Health Council argued over whether and when the Health Ministry should release figures on how well the four health funds provide screening for various conditions. Maccabi Health Services director-general Prof. Yehoshua Shemer, a former Health Ministry director-general who publishes Maccabi's results on its Web site, insisted that the public is entitled to transparency and has a right to know how well and equitably their insurers provide these vital services. But Prof. Eran Halpern of Clalit Health Services said the time was not ripe to release the data, as there were no accurate socioeconomic statistics about each health fund's memberships. The insurers with a greater number of poor and less-educated members, such as Clalit, have greater difficulty convincing their members to be screened for health threats, Halpern implied, thus rendering public comparisons without socioeconomic indices unfair. Kupat Holim Meuhedet director-general Uzi Salant sided with Halpern, arguing that the public would "not understand" the statistics in their available form. Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli said that while in principle the ministry would like to release comparative statistics on the health funds' performance as soon as possible, the information wouldn't be published immediately. "We have begun meeting on ways of releasing to the public statistics on mortality and morbidity in the hospitals. We have not yet persuaded ourselves that it is correct to do so," said Yisraeli, as the various hospitals serve different socioeconomic groups and publication could induce medical centers to refuse difficult cases in order to prevent their success rates from declining. "We hope to go ahead with this process. We haven't given up yet," Yisraeli said. The National Health Council began this heated debate after it received the third health indicators report produced by Ben-Gurion University physician and researcher Prof. Avi Porath, who has collected figures on 46 different health indices from the four insurers. His 118-page report was published in full Sunday in both Hebrew and English on the Health Ministry web site (www.health.gov.il) and on the web site of the National Health Policy Research Institute (www.israelhpr.org.il). Porath said that while the health funds' screening programs still haven't reached the optimal number of participants, the number of patients screened is growing. Procedures such as measuring blood pressure, encouraging high-risk patients to receive flu vaccinations and testing patients for chronic diseases are much more common than they used to be, Porath said. Additional health indices, such as whether members smoke, and pediatric indices will be added, along with geographical location, so that information on socioeconomic background will become accessible, he added. Porath's health indicators report shows that Israel's screening programs have reached the level of Western Europe and will even exceed it by the end of the decade, added Porath. Shemer, meanwhile, insisted that "the public is more intelligent than you think" and urged immediate publication of the four health funds' statistics on screening and other disease prevention activities. He and Israel Medical Association secretary-general Leah Wapner also said it was shameful that the health funds and the government have to charge for vaccinations and well-baby services in the Tipat Halav clinics, as some patients cannot afford to pay and it is in the insurers' interests to prevent illness and provide vaccinations.