State Opens Criminal Investigation Into Doctors Who Allegedly Charged Illegal Fees for Medical Tourism

Investigation prompted by TV documentary in which three senior doctors at Ichilov Hospital were shown allegedly demanding extra money for surgeries.

The State Prosecutor’s Office has decided to open a criminal investigation into three doctors who were shown on camera allegedly seeking thousands of dollars in extra payments for operations they were to perform on foreign tourists.

The alleged extra sums were to be paid to the physicians, from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, on top of a formal payment to the hospital, which was meant to cover the doctors’ fees, according to the broadcast on Channel 2 show “Uvda” (“Fact”).

The doctors implicated in the case are Zvi Ram, who heads Ichilov’s neurosurgery department; Shlomo Constantini, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at the hospital; and Yossi Paz, a senior cardiac surgeon there.

“Following the ‘Uvda’ investigative broadcast on the conduct of a number of doctors at Ichilov Hospital, the Health Ministry approached the State Prosecutor’s Office [asking that the office] examine whether there were grounds for opening a criminal investigation into the matter,” the SPO said in a statement.

“After a preliminary examination of material by the Prosecutor’s Office and in consultation with the police, it was recently decided to open an investigation,” it added.

About a month ago, the Tax Authority opened its own investigation into the doctors’ alleged payment demands. The authority told TheMarker that the probe is continuing and, in connection with some of the allegations, has gone from an informal inquiry to a more formal investigation.

In the broadcast report, Ram was shown explaining to an investigator for the show – who posed as an agent involved in bringing overseas residents to Israel for medical treatment – that there was one payment required for the hospital and a separate one for him. “For the biopsy portion, you’ll have to speak with the medical tourism department here. I’ll write to them that it’s a biopsy ... in my opinion, $10,000 for the hospital portion,” he said.

When the Channel 2 representative asked what the sum included, Ram is shown saying, “For the biopsy itself. My surgeon’s fee is 8,000 euros [about $11,000]. And now for the operation itself, if we go forward, just so she knows, in my opinion, the hospital, the cost could be in the order of $30,000 ... and ... let’s say 7,000 euros for three people, that’s [the] team, they need to be paid. This is not official. It’s not paid during doctors’ hours ... If she needs an operation then … there will be another $60,000 for the second operation ... $60,000 with ‘peripheral’ [charges].”

Dr. Constantini, the head of pediatric neurology at the hospital and one of the senior physicians at Ichilov, was seen allegedly requesting 30,000 euros for an operation. Of that sum, he allegedly said, 20,000 euros would go to the hospital’s medical tourism department. Although he was repeatedly asked where the rest would go, he is shown refusing to explain.

The third doctor featured on the investigative report, Paz, who heads the physicians’ union at Ichilov, concurred when the on-camera investigator asked if he could promise that he would do the surgery himself. This would be contrary to Health Ministry regulations and the relevant law itself. Unlike the two other surgeons in the report, he also said he would provide a receipt for 30,000 shekels ($8,600) for services rendered, in addition to the payment to the hospital for the operation.

Ichilov Hospital is a facility jointly sponsored by the state and the Tel Aviv municipality. The three doctors are municipal employees, but so far the municipality has not acceded to a request by Gabriel Barbash, the director general of the hospital, to suspend the three until the SPO decides whether charges will be filed.

Kobi Kalmanovitz