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In an about-face, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced he would support transferring mental health services to health maintenance organizations. If the reform takes effect, HMOs would take over both community mental health clinics and the mental health wards and hospitals from the state.

"It is no secret I have opposed this plan in the past, and I do still have concerns, but the status quo is not good," Litzman said yesterday at a healthcare conference at the Dead Sea. "I am particularly concerned by mental health services in rural areas."

A State Comptroller's report published two weeks ago found widespread deficiencies in the mental health system after years of delays in legislating an overhaul. The report focused on waiting periods for public mental health treatment and the neglected state of public mental health hospitals. Recent Health Ministry data indicates an average four-month wait for adult services and as much as a year for children and teens.

Under the planned reform, HMOs would provide community mental health services and finance psychiatric hospitalizations.

This is expected to lead to an increase of tens of percent in demand for community mental health services. The state will continue to handle rehabilitation after hospital release, halfway houses, addiction treatment and autism.

Litzman announced he would work to see the plan funded, and in parallel budget hospital renovations. Litzman acknowledged criticism for his past opposition to the plan, in his role as chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, but said "I will do anything to see this succeed."

Litzman also commented on the High Court's recent rejection of his dental care reform, under which the state would pay for children's dental care with NIS 65 million taken from general healthcare budgets, and said that in accordance with the ruling, he is already in negotiations with the the Knesset health committee chairman about the reform.