Ben-Yizri, 78, plans new agenda at Health Ministry

Ben-Yizri knows how difficult it will be to push for reform and reorganization.

yaakov ben yizri 88 (photo credit: )
yaakov ben yizri 88
(photo credit: )
Never in the history of the state has one cabinet had so much experience in health services: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Minister-without Portfolio Ya'acov Edri have all been health ministers, and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson was chairman of Kupat Holim Leumit. But the new health minister, 78-year-old Ya'acov Ben-Yizri of the Gil Pensioners Party - who himself had been clinic and regional manager for Clalit Health Services - knows how difficult it will nevertheless be to push for reform and reorganization and get more funds to meet urgent needs. Ben-Yizri, a moustachioed political unknown from Kfar Saba swept in by his party's surprising electoral win, might have been expected to feel overwhelmed and unnerved by some 150 top guns in the health system who attended Sunday's Jerusalem ceremony in which he took the minister's post over from Edri, who was there for only three and a half months. All of them - ministry officials, hospital directors-general, health fund heads and union chiefs - had much more experience than he. But the straight-backed (former) pensioner - born in Fez, Morocco, in the same year that Ariel Sharon was born in Kfar Malal - spoke energetically and to the point for 10 minutes without notes, hesitation or confusion when he described his agenda. His wife Hava, the mother of their two sons, one of whom fell in the country's service, looked on approvingly, while some members of the audience who had worked in Clalit and known him decades ago waved at Ben-Yizri and hugged him later. The National Health Insurance Law, which went into effect in 1995, has outgrown some of the needs of modern health care, he said. Ben-Yizri, who has been a volunteer on behalf of pensioners since he retired 13 years ago, said that the basket of health services should be expanded by a set percentage rather than be the subject of annual negotiation with penny-pinching Treasury officials; psychiatric and geriatric care should be in the basket supplied by health funds, without heavy co-payments by the sick and elderly; public health services should be expanded rather than constantly cut back, and hospital infrastructures had to be updated. Since the Gil Party succeeded way beyond its expectations, said Ben-Yizri, the party should take a broader view and represent not just retirees, adding that "it gives us more responsibility than we had thought." He said that although he was well aware that the Health Ministry is one of the most complicated and difficult portfolios, it was what he would have chosen himself if asked to do so. He seemed well aware of the problem of a high turnover of health ministers, himself becoming the 23rd in the state's 58 years and the 16th in only the last two decades. He did not want to be confused with one of his predecessors, Shlomo Benizri of Shas, and stressed his own name was Ben-Yizri.