Health Ministry prohibits paying Nefesh B’Nefesh

Aliya group denies asking payment from funds.

nefesh olim 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
nefesh olim 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The Health Ministry’s deputy director-general in charge of health fund supervision has sent each insurer a letter prohibiting them from paying the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) organization – which is solely responsible for encouraging and facilitating North America aliya – NIS 300,000 a year to present their services at aliya fairs abroad.
Dr. Yoel Lipschitz, a lawyer, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he had received letters from health fund officials and heard face-to-face admissions from them and NBN director-general Erez Halfon that they had told the insurers they could not participate in such fairs for aliya candidates unless they paid the large sum for the privilege.
Halfon flatly denied the assertion. In a statement, he said that all four of the health funds “participate in Nefesh B’Nefesh’s aliya and absorption fairs in Israel and overseas, offering their services to new immigrants free of charge and with no payment to the organization.
Anyone who says otherwise is blatantly uninformed and totally incorrect.”
In addition, said Halfon, all the health funds were given the option to become paid sponsors on NBN’s Web site and publicize their supplementary medical coverage online. To date, three out of the four have signed contracts to publicize and market their services on the Web site, he said.
Lipschitz said that as a monopoly on North American aliya that receives NIS 20 million annually from the Absorption Ministry, NBN had no right to demand money from the health funds for participating in fairs abroad.
Halfon previously served as director-general of the Absorption Ministry.
The ministry deputy director-general said Halfon told him that as an organization “with expenses and a business model,” it had to charge money for aliya fair participation not only from commercial banks and cellular phones companies, for example, but also from Israeli health funds that are eager for Western new immigrants to sign up as members when they arrive. But spending money for such a purpose was illegal, said Lipschitz.
A senior official in one of the health funds told the Post that “NBN acts like a protection organization. It is not just its demand for payment for participation but also the way they deal with others. Describing it as ‘gangsterism’ is a compliment,” the official said.
Another health fund senior official told the Post that Halfon personally told him his organization “has to pay to participate in aliya fairs abroad – and I was not the only one he told.”
As the health funds are strictly limited in the amount of money they can spend on marketing and advertising to a maximum of NIS 20 million annually, because the bulk of their income should go to provide medical care and medications, Lipschitz said that some try to hide their excess marketing outlay by listing it as some other expense.
It has already been reported that the state comptroller is investigating the insurers’ use of money for marketing and attracting members from other health funds and will publish his findings in his next report.
The Jewish Agency previously was responsible for encouraging and facilitating aliya from North America, but some years ago it handed over the responsibility to NBN after it proved to be more efficient than the Agency and to understand Westerners’ mentality.
Lipschitz said he has great admiration for NBN’s work with immigrants but was sorry that it had “abused its monopoly by demanding payments that health funds could not pay.
“All immigrants have the right to healthcare from one of the health funds; they just need to choose which one they want to join.
It is not like a bank or cellphone service. And NBN does not charge the Interior Ministry for appearing at aliya fairs abroad to explain citizenship and to prepare identity cards. We allow health funds to send representatives abroad to appear at fairs, but they must not be required to pay to participate in them,” the deputy director-general declared.
After Lipschitz sent warning letters to the marketing directors at all four health funds, Moshe Meiri of Kupat Holim Meuhedet replied in a letter stating that in 2010, the health fund “committed itself to pay NIS 300,000” for services including “banners on various pages of NBN’s Web site... and links in various messages the organization disseminates among immigrants, as well as participation in aliya fairs in Israel and abroad.”
Meiri later denied to the Post that his organization had agreed to pay for participating in NBN fairs.
When his letter was read back to him by this reporter, Meiri said: “I meant only to inform Lipschitz that Meuhedet was participating in the fairs, but did not mean to imply that we were paying for the privilege. I can send him a corrected letter.”
After hearing Meiri’s and Halfon’s denials, Lipschitz concluded: “I am glad that our letters and warnings to the health funds are shaking things up – but what they did is illegal.”