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Hundreds of doctors and administrative directors at the four health maintenance organizations that provide the public's medical needs are receiving exaggerated salaries, according to a report released yesterday by Yuval Rachlevsky, the treasury's wages director.

Many of the HMOs' doctors and administrators were named among individuals found to be receiving the highest wages in the public sector. The Clalit HMO staffers were found to be particularly at fault.

The report states that some 1,050 employees of Clalit - including heads of hospital departments, heads of branches of the HMO and other senior management officials - received an average gross salary of NIS 36,000 per month. In addition, another 30 senior employees received as much as NIS 100,000 per month.

The highest earner of all was the head of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Be'er Sheva's Soroka Medical Center, Prof. Azai Appelbaum, who was grossing NIS 108,000 per month (and costing Clalit NIS 141,000). Dr Yitzhak Peterburg, former Clalit director, grossed NIS 85,000 per month in 2002.

A spokesman for Clalit said yesterday that Appelbaum's salary was fixed in a contract in 1992 when he left Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center to set up the heart surgery department in Be'er Sheva; it was approved by the treasury and reviewed by the state comptroller. Peterburg's salary included components from his previous position and was also approved by the treasury, the spokesman said.

The average monthly salary in the Maccabi HMO, which has 1.5 million members and 5,200 employees, was NIS 11,000. However, some 200 senior employees were being paid NIS 32,000-36,000 gross per month, the report stated. The HMO's director, Prof. Shuki Shemer, was paid a gross wage of NIS 73,000 a month. A Maccabi spokesman said the salaries had been approved by the treasury's wages department.

According to the report, three senior administrative workers at the Meuhedet HMO received NIS 60,000-77,000 gross per month, while 12 other senior employees, including doctors, were being paid NIS 49,000 per month - all of these also approved by the treasury.

At the Leumit HMO, 37 senior doctors and administrative workers also received average gross salaries of NIS 33,000 monthly, while the HMO's director, Shmuel Rozenman, was paid NIS 50,000 a month.

The exaggerated salaries were paid despite the fact that all four HMOs chalked up heavy deficits in 2002. According to the Health Ministry, Clalit owed some NIS 413 million in 2002 and its deficit in 2003 could swell even further; Leumit owed NIS 94 million in 2002. Preliminary estimates put Meuhedet's deficit in 2003 at NIS 30 million, while that of Maccabi is estimated to have reached some NIS 20 million.