MKs demand automatic updating of health basket

Patients' groups: "Protest tent" to be set up in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Tuesday in response to cancellation.

hospital bed 88 (photo credit: )
hospital bed 88
(photo credit: )
Dissatisfied with a doubling of the 2006 addition to the health basket in exchange for the government's decision not to expand the basket in 2007 at all, the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee called on the government to allocate NIS 300 million to add new medical technologies to the basket next year. In a tense and noisy committee session on Monday that was attended by dozens of patient group representatives, it was decided to demand that the government meet its promise from last May (by coalition chairman MK Avigdor Yitzhaki) to present a government bill that expands the basket of health services provided by the health funds by a fixed annual percentage of two percent. Such an increase amounts to about NIS 300 million a year. An automatic increase has always been strongly opposed by the Treasury. Several private members' bills for automatic updating of the basket were postponed by the plenum until a government bill to the same effect is presented to the Knesset. The committee, headed by Gil Party MK Moshe Sharoni, demanded that Gil MK and Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri act immediately to extend by several months the appointment of the Public Committee to Expand the Health Basket - until the end of discussions in the Knesset of the 2007 state budget. "Our struggle is for life against death," agreed many patient group representatives. "If the 2007 budget does not include additional funds for the basket, some of the patients will die and others will suffer irreversible harm because most of them have no money to buy lifesaving drugs or medications that significantly improve their quality of life but are not provided by their health funds." Sharoni, who endorsed their appeal, said that if there was no 2% update to the basket, "we will again witness heartbreaking scenes of hunger strikers." It was about 10 months ago that colon cancer patients held a hunger strike near the Knesset that induced the government to expand the basket by more than the average NIS 200 million so that some drugs that extend the lives of such cancer patients be included in the basket. MK Aryeh Eldad (a physician by training), MK Haim Oron, MK Avraham Ravitz and others called on coalition members to condition their approval of next year's budget by a decision to expand the 2007 basket. MK David Azoulay demanded that Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson exempt lifesaving drugs from VAT and add money immediately to the basket. Ravitz, a kidney transplant patient, focused on modern Orthodox and haredi MKs and said medicine was "a religious matter." He called on all observant MKs to refuse to vote for the budget unless the basket was expanded. Patients' groups said they would set up a "protest tent" in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Tuesday to make their voices heard on cancellation of the basket expansion in 2007. A Health Ministry spokeswoman said it would prefer automatic updating of the basket to avoid the annual arguments and struggles, but it was the Treasury and the whole government that have the power to decide. In the next few days, the future of the basket committee and its membership would be decided, she added.