VIPs to pay NIS 600 monthly tax on medical benefits

Controversial benefits began in 1950 when a Supreme Court justice told David Ben-Gurion that he didn't feel comfortable being a member of one of the public health funds.

The nearly 600 former judges, MKs, ministry directors-general, presidents and prime ministers and their dependants who have received a total of NIS 13.2 million a year in reimbursements for a wide variety of medical expenses - including geriatric nursing and medications outside the basket of health services - will now have to pay NIS 600 monthly for the privilege. The decision, which will charge them the tax retroactively to January of this year, was taken by Treasury accountant-general Yaron Zelekha. On Sunday, The Jerusalem Post's Health Page carried a major feature on the controversial benefits, which were instituted in the 1950s by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion when a Supreme Court justice said he didn't feel comfortable being a member of one of the public health funds (in those days owned by political parties). The Finance Ministry's spokesman's office did not explain why it had not included retroactive cancellation of the benefits in the 2008 Arrangements Bill, in which hundreds of clauses to save money are meant to be passed en bloc with the annual Budgets Bill now before the Knesset. Health Ministry senior official Dr. Michael Dor spends an hour of every workday going over receipts, checking drug registries and consulting medical specialists and legal experts - all for the benefit of the 578 privileged Israelis. Since the 50s, the financial benefits were gradually expanded from justices to all civil court judges, dayanim from the Jewish religious courts and kadis from the Muslim courts, MKs, government ministers, directors-general of the ministries, MKs, the civil service commissioner, the state comptroller and the president and the prime minister - and any dependents who live with them. In 1986, the Knesset barred new members from joining the exclusive "club," except for presidents and prime ministers. Judges only have been paying NIS 200 a month, as their membership has been regarded as subsidized "health insurance." According to the Treasury, the savings from the tax will reach NIS 6 million, while over the years, until all the members of the group pass away, the accumulated savings will be around NIS 400 million. The Finance Ministry spokesman's office said Zelekha decided to enact the tax after the issue had been raised, but that only legislation passed by the Knesset could retroactively abolish all benefits. Asked why former president Moshe Katsav, who resigned in disgrace from office earlier this year, has not had these benefits taken from him, the spokesman's office explained that this could be decided only by the Knesset House Committee. The benefits include all drugs not included in the basket of health services (including Viagra and contraceptives), paramedical treatments such as physiotherapy, medical insurance for foreign travel, orthopedic insoles, copayments for visits to a doctor, and NIS 313 per day for intensive geriatric nursing institutions (plus dental expenses for the presidents only). There has even been a case of a VIP who was separated from his wife asking for reimbursements for both his wife and his mistress. Although most of the beneficiaries are elderly and dying out, the cost of VIP coverage has been growing due to the surge in geriatric nursing expenses. The budget for VIP medical expenses is supplied directly by the Treasury and reluctantly administered and supervised by Dor of the Health Ministry, who is acting head of its medical division and permanent head of its general medicine department.