Barzilai Hospital, doctors strike
Waiting for treatment at the partially abandoned Barzilai Hospital on April 6, 2011. Photo by Ilan Asayag
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The negotiations between the Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry have run aground. But even if both sides make compromises, there is one demand the government must not accept under any condition: instituting private health care in hospitals run by the government or the Clalit health maintenance organization.

Those leading the push for private care are private insurance companies; a group of veteran doctors whose primary concern is themselves (at the expense of their younger colleagues and specialists in fields that don't allow for private practice ); and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is behind the move because private health care is popular among the ultra-Orthodox, whom Litzman represents as a United Torah Judaism MK.

And now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is adding himself to the list. His position contravenes an opinion handed down by the attorney general in 2002, which came out strongly against privatized medicine, and a High Court of Justice ruling from 2009 that found that, aside from long-standing agreements with Jerusalem hospitals, the private health care that had seeped into public hospitals during afternoon hours was illegal.

Supporters of private health care argue that it will give experienced specialists a reason to stay at hospitals rather than work in private clinics, shorten the waiting periods for medical services, and serve as a source of income that will be used to benefit all patients, most of whom have supplementary insurance. But the Finance Ministry says institutionalizing private care will increase the health care budget by NIS 3 billion, make private hospitals unnecessary, and reduce the productive competition between public and private hospitals.

The issue is even more serious when examined through the lens of social welfare. "Shortening the line for one person," the High Court wrote in its 2009 ruling, "means making the line longer for someone else."

Indeed, many public health specialists expect an expended private health care system to increase the wait for everyone else and make sought-after treatments more expensive. The burden on the public, which is already high - 42 percent of the national health care expenditure comes from the public - will increase. At the same time, health care in outlying areas of the country will be worse off and it will become more difficult to train new doctors.

Israel's health care system is a good one, but it suffers from a shortage of doctors and resources, and it must be shored up. Abandoning the public infrastructure for privatization will allow the state to completely ignore its obligation to provide equal health care, and is liable to destroy the entire health care system.