Benjamin Netanyahu - Tomer Appelbaum
Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proposing that health and treasury officials consider introducing private medical services into state-run hospitals as a way to resolve the current doctors strike.

Netanyahu consulted yesterday with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on the issue. The law does not currently permit private medical services to be administered in hospitals run by the state, though such services are offered in medical centers operated by non-profit foundations - including Hadassah, Shaare Zedek, Bikur Holim and Laniado.

"The issue of private medical services is a complex one that should be examined," a source close to Netanyahu said. "But Netanyahu has yet to make a decision on the matter."

The aide said officials are trying to determine if the issue could form the basis of a breakthrough in the labor dispute.

Finance Ministry officials have thus opposed the introduction of private services into public hospitals, a measure they believe would lead to greater individual expenditures on health care.

The Israel Medical Association, which declared a two-day strike on Monday, said it has yet to receive a proposal from Netanyahu or Steinitz. Doctors are demanding that the state allocate funding for a wider range of medical services, so that patients who are enrolled in supplementary insurance plans would be able to choose their doctors in state-run hospitals, and not just in private institutions.

The IMA believes that allowing patients the option of choosing doctors in state-run facilities would enable senior doctors to remain in the hospitals beyond the morning hours, when they normally leave to treat patients in private clinics.

"The supplementary insurance package pours NIS 2.5 billion into the coffers of the HMOs every year," said Dr. Nimrod Rahamimov, who also serves as deputy chairman of the IMA. "These funds are used to select a surgeon or to get a second opinion. This money could be utilized only through private medicine, and not public - which allows the private hospitals to enjoy the fruits of these services while public hospitals are left to offer treatments that are less profit-generating."

"We want to restore public health insurance to public medicine," he said. "That way a hospital in the outlying areas of the country could be more attractive to patients and to doctors while generating income as well."

According to IMA officials, the current labor strife is due to low wages and a lack of manpower in hospitals located outside the center of the country.

"Granting private medical services cannot satisfy all of the doctors' demands during negotiations," an IMA official told Haaretz.

Earlier this year, Litzman expressed support for introducing private medical services in exchange for doctors' agreeing to use time clocks.