Brookdale: Most Israelis still happy with health services

Although nearly nine in 10 Israelis are satisfied or very satisfied with their health fund's service, the waiting time to see a specialist has lengthened during the past two years, and the percentage of the population who complain about emotional distress has risen significantly from 28 percent in 2003 to 39% last year. These are some of the latest findings in an ongoing study of the health system by researchers at Jerusalem's Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute that were released for publication on Sunday. The representative sample of 1,902 adults was carried out by Prof. Revital Gross, Shuli Bramli-Greenberg and Ronit Matzliah, who asked the same questions they have been posing biennially since 1995. Kupat Holim Meuhedet, the third largest of the four, had the most satisfied customers, with 92% saying they were happy or very happy with its service, followed by 91% of members of Maccabi Health Services, the second largest. Satisfaction rates of Clalit Health Services (the largest) and Kupat Holim Leumit tied at 86%. But the share of those in all the health funds saying they were "very satisfied" declined from 30% in 2003 to only 24% last year. Fifty-five percent of those polled said they had to wait more than a week to see a medical specialist. Contrary to other recent surveys, only 15% said last year that it was difficult for them to get the medical treatment they needed, compared to 20% in 2003. The percentage of members who complained about co-payments for health services dropped from 31% to 27%. But still, a third of patients with chronic illness and of those earning low incomes complained about co-payments. Only 8% said they had to forgo medical treatment (not including dental care and purchase of drugs) at least once because they could not afford to pay for it. Nearly a third said they went without dental treatments - which are not included in the basic basket of services - because they couldn't afford them. Fourteen percent - nearly double the 1999 figure - claimed they didn't get medical treatment they needed because it was too far from their residence. A fifth of those interviewed said that they received a referral for medical tests or consultation only after great effort, compared to only 15% who claimed this two years ago. But only 8% said their insurer demanded they take cheaper (usually generic) drugs instead of the medications they wanted and needed, instead of 14% in the last survey. Even though transfer from one health fund to another is a rare occurrence (2% per year), fully 20 percent of all Israelis are "considering" moving to another insurer. Asked to explain why those who were unhappy did not transfer, they said they were not certain whether they would be penalized by losing rights or having to pay more for supplementary health insurance. Nearly half of those polled said that during the last year they took prescription medications on a regular basis, while 13% of those who took medications said they stopped taking them or changed the dosage without consulting their doctor. Only 37% of those taking mediations said that during the last year their doctor went over the whole list of drugs they took to see whether there were any conflicts among them. Half of those taking medications said their doctors did "not explain well enough" about the drugs prescribed. Fourteen percent of chronically ill patients, compared to 11% of healthy patients, reported a decline in their health funds's medical services in the past year. Asked about the Israeli medical system in general, 57% said they were satisfied or very satisfied with it, compared to 59% two years ago. Queried about what their health fund could do to improve, 60% said treatment should become more accessible and convenient.