Operating room
An operating room in Israel. Hopefully waiting times will be shortened. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The real news emerging from the committee headed by Health Minister Yael German lies, ironically, in the move it didn’t make. The committee to strengthen the public health system decided to ban private medical services at public hospitals, acknowledging that these institutions are designed to provide equal service to all members of the public regardless of religion, race, gender or economic situation.

Actually, the special committee had been set up to introduce private medical services at public hospitals at the hospital directors’ request. For years these directors saw private medical services thrive at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and hoped their institutions could get in on the action. The proponents of private medical services asserted that without them senior doctors would flee the public health system and unmoneyed patients would be left without proper care.

Hadassah’s collapse and the exploiting of public infrastructure for amassing personal profits, as top doctors did at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, exposed the dangers of privatizing such a vital service as health. The Hadassah case proved that private medicine mixed in with public services not only increases inequality but is also a recipe for economic failure whose price the state and taxpayers ultimately pay.

The committee is to be commended for preferring the greater good, especially that of the weaker classes who don’t have anyone lobbying for them. If private medical services were officially part of the public system, these classes would be the first to be stung. They would be pushed to the end of the already too-long waiting lines for doctors’ appointments and surgery.

The committee has budgeted around 700 million shekels ($204 million) a year to shorten the waiting times for these services. The committee should also be commended for its allocation of 300 million shekels to the hospitals to strengthen their infrastructure, increase their number of operations and improve their emergency rooms.

The health system has many more failures that must be addressed, first and foremost the health maintenance organizations’ huge deficits. The committee offered these problems a partial solution at best. But the general thrust — accepting responsibility for public medicine in Israel — is beneficial for both patients and the system overall.