MKs can't find way to provide health care to refugees

MK says since closure of south TA clinic, local hospitals have reported increased pressure on already-busy emergency rooms.

Sudanese refugees 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sudanese refugees 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A month after the country's only free clinic for refugees closed its doors, Knesset members came up empty-handed Tuesday after a second committee meeting was held to try and discover a solution to the growing medical crisis. At a joint meeting of the Labor and Welfare Committee and the Committee for Foreign Workers, MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that since the Physicians for Human Rights' clinic in south Tel Aviv had closed, local hospitals had reported increased pressure on their already-busy emergency rooms. Of the approximately 7,000 refugees living in Israel, an estimated 3,000 live in the Tel Aviv area. But the number of patient files managed by the now-defunct clinic numbered over 10,000. Dr. Miki Dor of the Health Ministry said that he had tried to enlist the national health care providers to sponsor a replacement clinic in south Tel Aviv, and that three out of four had agreed to provide volunteer staffers as long as the ministry provided the clinic facilities. MK Arye Eldad questioned why - since legal foreign workers were required to pay for health insurance - the government did not open the government-sponsored health care providers to the population, whom he described as "young, healthy and currently paying money to private insurance companies." Instead, he argued, the state could gain the income earned from the legal workers - whose employers pay around $1 per day in health insurance - and use that money to fund a clinic for the refugees. The amount of money paid into private insurance companies' pockets for legal foreign workers' health care is estimated at NIS 300 million per year, said Israel Medical Organization representative Anat Geva-Galil. But Finance Ministry representative Raviv Sobel was less than enthusiastic about attempts to find a replacement for the clinic. He reminded the committee that the government had recently announced a crackdown on unrecognized refugees, and that they planned to round up all those who had not received official status. In that case, Sobel argued, such a clinic was unnecessary, as any unrecognized refugees would receive their medical care - while detained - from the Israel Prisons Service. "I don't think we should offer medical care to people who are trying to circumvent the government's policy," said Sobel.