End the doctors’ strike!

The prime minister must heed Eidelman’s call and get involved personally. It is, after all, a matter of life and death.

Rambam doctors strike march 311 (photo credit: Piotr Fliter)
Rambam doctors strike march 311
(photo credit: Piotr Fliter)
The Treasury, in an attempt to show just how unrealistic it would be to meet all of the myriad demands made by various social justice activists, compiled a wish list complete with estimated price tags. Treasury officials concluded that it would cost the state coffers a total of NIS 60 billion, or a bit less than one-fifth of the annual budget, to provide for all demands.
The housing reform package – including the allotment of cheap land, investment in public housing and the building of student dormitories – is expected to cost several billion shekels. Demands made by the “stroller marchers” to provide free childcare and education would require a state expenditure of NIS 27b. Cutting gasoline taxes would cost NIS 8b. Providing local authorities with budgetary additions would cost another NIS 3b.
What’s more, Treasury officials are particularly averse to any attempts by politicians to even consider populist appeasement via a loosening of fiscal discipline. It was precisely this sort of appeal to the masses that apparently helped precipitate the sudden resignation of Finance Ministry director-general Haim Shani.
Though Shani, in his resignation letter, mentioned in vague terms ongoing disagreements with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, sources in the Treasury quoted by the media were more specific.
“He [Shani] is sick of [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s quick fix solutions,” claimed one source quoted by Ynet. “Instead of sitting down and planning and making decisions, everything is being done hastily.”
Also mentioned was Shani’s dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s decision to freeze a planned tax hike on fuel. Apparently, Shani and others in the Treasury are concerned that Netanyahu will sacrifice a hard-earned balanced budget to quell discontent.
Shani and others in the Treasury are right to argue that not all demands being made in a sudden outburst of populist fervor – no matter how justified they are – can be met. The government’s role is to make painful decisions in a reality of limited resources. Fiscal responsibility that provides economic stability and strength must be weighed against the need to sustain a welfare state worthy of the name; inexpensive, quality education; efficient public transportation; affordable housing.
Nevertheless, of all the socioeconomic crises roiling the government, one is particularly pressing, and, it seems, eminently solvable. For nearly 140 days now the Israel Medical Association has been striking to bring about reforms that will, in the words of IMA Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, “save the medical system from collapse.”
Eidelman, who has been on a hunger strike since last Monday, was among thousands of doctors Sunday dressed in white medical gowns who descended on the Rose Garden adjacent to the Knesset to demand an overhaul of our ailing medical system.
The simple fact is that with all the desire to cut fiscal spending, we don’t spend enough on health. In 2009, Israel’s public expenditure on medical services was just 7.9 percent of GDP, compared to an OECD average of 9.5%.
State funding covered just 58% of health expenditures – similar to the level in the US, Chile and Mexico – and lower than the OECD average of 71.7%. In Scandinavian countries, Britain and Japan, more than 80% of health expenses are covered by the state.
There is also a dreadful dearth of hospital beds – and all the medical equipment, physical space and medical personnel that accompany each additional bed. In 2009, among the 34 OECD countries there were on average 3.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people; in Israel there were only two beds per 1,000.
In an appeal to Netanyahu to get involved personally – which for some reason the prime minister, who is also the health minister, has so far refused to do – Eidelman has said repeatedly that the differences are eminently bridgeable. Even the Treasury admits that meeting doctors’ demands would cost NIS 2.5b., a reasonable expenditure to help ensure adequate medical care.
Ideally, we would all like to see all protesters’ justified demands met. Unfortunately, fiscal limitations make this impossible. However, of all the causes being touted right now, none is more pressing than the dire need to revamp our medical system. The doctors’ strike has been dragging on too long. The prime minister must heed Eidelman’s call and get involved personally. It is, after all, a matter of life and death.