The basket of health services will be expanded with new drugs and medical technologies to the tune of NIS 350 million a year over the next three years, according to a new agreement between the Finance and Health ministries. While the agreement does not include an automatic update of the basket of services supplied by the health funds to their members, and at 1.4 percent it falls below the 2% annual increase recommended by experts, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri expressed satisfaction because it was the first three-year agreement ever achieved regarding the basket. The ministry expects a new public committee on the basket's priorities to be appointed by the end of next month.
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In addition, the Treasury will grant the ministry NIS 50m. a year to provide a 10% discount on prescription medications for all people 75 years and older.
Another achievement for the health system is that the four public health funds, which have recently been offering new drugs not in the basket to those members who pay for supplementary health insurance, will no longer be able to supply these under the policies. In the future, no drugs outside the basket may be offered under supplementary health insurance policies; instead, these policies will have to offer other services. Around 80% of the population buy supplementary health insurance from their health fund.
Ben-Yizri said there would be no dismissals of workers in the health system, and that 301 job slots would be added, including 220 for public health, including 150 family health center (tipat halav) nurses.
Although the Finance Ministry has been pushing for the establishment of a fifth health fund to increase competition, the Health Ministry said this would not be allowed without its agreement. Some health experts worry that a fifth fund would attract the youngest and healthiest citizens, weakening the other four.
In addition, NIS 5m. will be allocated to reducing violence against the elderly; NIS 2m. will go to suicide prevention; and 450 "codes" for partial subsidization of the elderly in nursing homes will be added at a cost of NIS 54m.
"I know that the needs of the ministry are much greater than what was agreed on today," Ben-Yizri said on Monday, "but we are not unaware of the many other government needs, such as for defense. But in all modesty, we have many achievements, especially the three-year agreement on the basket of health services. Even if I do not remain in office [until the end of the government's term], I leave an respectable package for the coming years to the next minister."
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On also said the three-year agreement was a milestone that strengthened the health system.
The Health Ministry, however, did not manage to persuade the Treasury to implement the plan to expand the number of hospital beds, which is currently among the lowest per capita in the Western world. As it takes five years to build facilities to expand hospital wards, the number of beds will not increase before 2015.
Another piece of bad news is that according to the Treasury's Economics Arrangement Bill to be submitted to the Knesset along with the 2008 state budget, housewives will have to pay NIS 137 per month in health taxes; until now, they were exempt. The Arrangement Bill also stipulates a major reduction in payment to hospitals for radiotherapy treatments, making it much less likely that they will want to expand such services or even maintain the current level of services.