Suit against ministers over supplementary health insurance

Israel Cancer Association demands that Arrangements Bill not include any mention of supplementary health insurance provided by the insurers.

yaakov ben-yizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaakov ben-yizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Israel Cancer Association (ICA) and the Patients' Rights Association (PRA) have filed a joint suit in the High Court of Justice against Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and the health funds demanding that the Arrangements Bill not include any mention of supplementary health insurance provided by the insurers. The plaintiffs, represented by lawyer Haim Kreutouro, maintained that the Arrangements Bill attached by the Treasury to the Budgets Bill for 2008 ignores Supreme Court rulings and explicit guidelines of the attorney-general and the Knesset's legal adviser. The inclusion of a prohibition against the health funds offering supplementary health insurance that provides medications not included in the official basket of health services, the plaintiffs said, would harm tens of thousands of patients. If taken out of the Arrangements Bill, the issue can be discussed seriously and not pushed through on the whim of the Finance Ministry with Health Ministry approval, they argued. PRA chairman Adina Marks said canceling the supply of lifesaving drugs that are not supplied by health funds through the basket is not the way to create equity. While 70 percent of the population have taken out supplementary health insurance for dozens of shekels per month per person, most of the others can't afford health policies from private insurance companies, thus everyone loses out, she said. But the wealthy will be able to get additional medications through private insurance. Ben-Yizri earlier this year allowed Maccabi Health Services and Clalit Health Services to offer extra medications with their supplementary health insurance policies. But suddenly, he backtracked and agreed to the Treasury's demands to cancel it, reportedly under pressure from private insurance companies. Ben-Yizri tried but failed upon entering office to name Ehud Frishmann - a registered representative of private insurance companies - to be his director-general. ICA director-general Miri Ziv said it was unthinkable for the subject of supplementary health insurance, which involves life-and-death matters, to be voted on without an in-depth discussion in Knesset committees - especially when the state has so far failed to take responsibility for satisfactory updating of the basket of health services. Meanwhile, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)-Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Adva Center have called on ministers and MKS to vote in favor of removing vital drugs that are outside the basket from supplementary health insurance. Taking an opposite view, they insist that the basket be updated automatically by two percent annually so that the health funds can supply state-subsidized vital drugs to residents without them having to take out supplementary policies. They warned that Maccabi and Clalit would not be able to continue to offer drugs outside the basket without significantly hiking the cost of their supplementary policies. Expanding supplementary policies will bring about the shrinking of the basic basket and health services the state must provide its residents. PHR-Israel said Maccabi members constitute less than a quarter of all Israelis; Leumit and Meuhedet do not offer extra drugs in supplementary policies; and Clalit members have to wait two years until they are entitled to drug benefits from supplementary policies. Thus, only a fifth of Israelis are eligible for these benefits. However, Dr. Ehud Kokia, director-general of Maccabi Health Services, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Monday that he favored the inclusion of extra drugs in its supplementary policy. "If the government agrees, the other two health funds will offer their own supplementary policies the next day," he said. The ultimate solution, Kokia said, was for the government to automatically update the basket by 2%, and in a few years all vital drugs will be supplied by health funds through the regular basket and members would not need supplementary policies for lifesaving medications. In the meantime, he said, Maccabi members who can afford them would be willing to pay a few shekels extra a month to pay for drugs for the poor who cannot afford them. But, Kokia conceded, that could encourage the Treasury to use the tactic for welfare and educational purposes and demand that the better-off pay for the poor instead of the state providing them with services.