Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri will soon ask the cabinet to approval a proposal to raise health taxes by 0.3 percent (above the current 4.6%) and a bill that would give the right to geriatric nursing care to those who need it. The Health Ministry plan - which is opposed by the Finance Ministry but is expected to get strong backing from the Gil Pensioners Party, the Pensioners Affairs Ministry and members of the public - would transfer responsibility for the supply of geriatric nursing care in the community and in institutions to the four health funds from Ben-Yizri's ministry and several other authorities. The rate of health taxes, collected monthly on a progressive scale by the National Insurance Institute, has not been hiked since the National Health Insurance Law went into effect in 1995. Although the transfer of responsibility to the health funds was supposed to have been implemented in 1998, opposition from the Treasury and other powers prevented this. Ben-Yizri made his plan public for the first time at Tuesday's Conference on Health Ageing, organized by the National Institute for Health Policy Research, which was established by the National Health Insurance Law to conduct studies on how the law was being implemented, how the public viewed it and other subjects. The conference, attended by some 100 professionals and laymen, was held at the Conrad Adenauer Conference Center in Jerusalem's Mishkenot Sha'ananim. Ben-Yizri said that for the last three years, disabled geriatric patients unable to take care of themselves and requiring institutionalization have not had to wait for a ministry "code" (subsidy) to be admitted to a geriatric hospital. Previously, desperate patients and their families - who are in any case required to make copayments for care - had to wait months or even a year for a "code." But a major problem that remains is having to turn to a wide variety of bureaucratic hurdles to get the care they need. The tax increase would provide around NIS 700 million a year for geriatric nursing care, according to Health Ministry deputy director-general Gabi Bin-Nun, who is leaving for academia after almost three decades in the ministry. He said that someone earning the average gross wage of NIS 7,000 would have to pay about NIS 10 a month for such coverage. Finance Ministry budgets division deputy chief Raviv Sobel told the audience at Mishkenot Sha'ananim the Treasury opposed amending the law on geriatric nursing care and preferred "small changes to solve problems." Bin-Nun said economic growth allowed the country to offer more and to take risks. He told The Jerusalem Post at the end of the conference that Israel could tackle both the transfer of responsibility for psychiatric care from the Health Ministry to the health funds - which has also been opposed by the Treasury and faced other roadblocks - and implement the same process for geriatric services. Bin-Nun, who has worked on the geriatric nursing plan for two years, said the ministry - if freed of the burden of financing and supplying these services - would be able to concentrate on its intended role of regulator and supervisor to ensure that these services were available, equitable and of high quality. Ben-Yizri also announced that the public committee he appoints to recommend the details of the expansion of the basket of health services would from now on have to prepare its list of priorities before the end of the calendar year so that additional Treasury subsidies could be used to supply lifesaving drugs starting on January 1. Because of difficulties in appointing the current committee, it still has not presented its recommendations for 2008 - but these are expected next month. Ben-Yizri said he would reappoint the members and ask them to set dates for beginning and concluding their work and for deciding how to spend the NIS 450m. that will be added in 2009. He added that the Finance Ministry wanted to penalize patients by reducing the NIS 450 million budget increase for new drugs in 2008 because patients would not start getting them until late February. But the health minister said he would fight the Treasury on the issue. A full report on the conference will appear on the Health Page on February 10.