Health Ministry urged to supervise medical tourism

Treatment of foreigners may come at expense of local patients, Knesset research center report finds.

Health Ministry 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Health Ministry 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although medical treatment for foreign tourists could come at the expense of local patients due to already inadequate manpower and facilities, the Health Ministry does not properly supervise its implementation and has not passed relevant legislation, according to a report the Knesset’s Research and Information Center issued.
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) requested the preparation of the 13-page report. The professional researchers stated that as the ministry “does not have enough tools and resources to supervise medical tourism, setting down clear rules on what is permitted and forbidden,” supervision and monitoring are needed to prevent discrimination against economically disadvantaged Israeli residents who cannot afford private healthcare.
The Health Ministry, it said, uses the same monitoring of medical tourism that it does of medical treatment for locals, no matter who pays for the services and from where the patient comes.
The report presented Tourism Ministry claims “there there is in Israel today no authority responsible for medical tourism and that the narrow medical aspect should be separated from the broader tourism aspect.” The Tourism Ministry, the report continued, has now started do make such arrangements.
The medical establishments in India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries with lower levels of medical care than Israel are more advanced in serving medical tourists coming to them, as they have set up quality councils and standards to ensure that foreigners get what they pay for and expect.
Open-heart surgery costs an average of $30,000 in the US and $4,000 in India.
According to the Knesset report, while the Health Ministry does not have upto- date and accurate figures on medical tourism in Israel, estimates based on 2007 to 2009 are used in the report.
Medical tourism income constitutes 11 percent of all service exports, the Tourism Ministry said. In 2009, about 23,000 foreigners came here for nonurgent medical care such as plastic surgery and other elective surgery; psychological and dental care; fertility treatment; consultations; and urgent procedures such as organ transplants and cancer therapy and surgery.
One percent of foreign tourists came for medical care in 2009. In 2007, medical tourism brought in about $50 million, and the average medical tourist spent $4,777, compared to $1,083 by an ordinary tourist during his visit.
The cost of medical procedures is much lower in Israel than in the US, where medicine is private.
Most medical tourists to Israel come from Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union, Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, Cyprus, Jordan and Turkey and the US.
In Jerusalem’s medical centers, foreign tourists pay for legal Sharap (private medical services), which limit private care to one-fifth of all patients, but in government and other public hospitals, where private care is not legal, they pay for care via the hospital’s “research funds.”
The Knesset center said it is worthwhile to increase doctors’ and hospitals’ income through medial tourism, but that it should not be at the expense of Israelis, who through the National Health Insurance system are entitled to equitable healthcare. As there are too few nurses and doctors specialties such as anesthesiology, pathology and intensive care, the report’s authors concluded, efforts must be made to “halt the growing gap and inequality in receipt of medical care by Israelis.”
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has come out publicly in favor of increasing medical tourism, but a few days ago in an interview, Hebrew University Medical Faculty dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf voiced his opposition. He charged that “Israel can’t afford this luxury,” and feared that tourists would get special treatment and pressure on local hospitals would increase without income being used to expand facilities for Israelis.