Health Ministry freezes privatizing mental health care
Decision made following IMA petition which said that Health, Finance Ministries trying to save money at patients' expense.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
The Health Ministry has decided, "at this stage," not to transfer responsibility for community and hospital outpatient mental health clinics to a private company named the Public Health Association.
The transfer, which was due to begin on Wednesday, aroused much protest from public health experts, MKs, psychiatrists and the public.
The ministry's change of mind was announced on Tuesday at a session of the High Court of Justice, in which the Israel Medical Association (IMA) petitioned against what it said were the intentions of the Finance and Health ministries to save money at the patients' expense.
The Health Ministry will thus continue to employ clinic staffers instead of having the Public Health Association hire professionals on a contractual basis.
The PHA has been criticized by both the State Comptroller's Office and the Health Ministry for failing to provide even basic immunizations in the schools since it took over school health services from the ministry a few years ago. The IMA said the PHA was economically motivated and did not compete in any public tender.
The doctors association argued through its lawyers that the National Health Insurance Law put responsibility for psychiatric services in the hands of the Health Ministry, which has for years tried to give the four public health funds responsibility for providing all mental health services to their members.
This, the Health Ministry and the health funds argue, would make psychiatric illness just like any physical one and reduce stigma, but the health funds are demanding extra funding for taking over this task.
However, despite several announcements by health ministers that such a transfer would "soon" take effect, the ministry has failed to get Knesset approval of an amendment to the National Health Insurance Law that would facilitate the transfer.
As the Health Ministry did not say the planned transfer of responsibility was "dead," the IMA said it would continue to struggle for the future and welfare of mental health care in Israel.
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