Israel Extends Health Care to Foreign Spouses of Israelis

New regulations will mainly benefit Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs and spouses of Israelis in preliminary stages of naturalization.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A health maintenance organization in Israel.
A health maintenance organization in Israel.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

For the first time, spouses and children of Israeli citizens or residents who do not themselves have formal status will be able to purchase national health insurance and access all the health services and drugs included in the “health basket” from Israel’s health maintenance organizations.

The primary beneficiaries of the new regulation are Palestinians who are married to Israeli Arabs and who live in Israel with their spouses and children under the “family reunification” arrangements. It will also allow foreign citizens in the preliminary stages of naturalization to get coverage. The insurance will cost 285 shekels ($82) monthly per person, or 570 shekels per family.

The new regulations, recently signed by Health Minister Yael German and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, go into effect on May 1.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which was first passed in 2003 and renewed annually – most recently last week – makes residents of the West Bank and Gaza ineligible for the automatic citizenship or residency permits bestowed on other nationals when they marry Israeli citizens. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar reported to the Knesset that, despite the law, more than 30 percent of the requests made for family reunification during the past year were approved by a special committee for humanitarian reasons. Such approvals allow the spouses and children to reside in Israel legally, but do not grant them citizenship or residency permits.

It is not clear how many spouses and children without formal status will benefit from the new regulation. According to Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, there are some 20,000 Palestinian women in Israel who are married to Israeli Arabs but have no civil status. Yesh Atid estimates that the number is closer to 8,000. According to a recent State Comptroller’s Report, there are also 8,000 minors without status in Israel.

The new regulation distinguishes between two groups: The spouses and children of Israeli citizens; and the spouses and children of Israeli permanent residents. The spouses and children of citizens will be eligible for health services after a waiting period of six months, during which they must remain in Israel and pay the insurance premiums.

The spouses and children of permanent residents will have to wait 27 months – during which they must pay the premiums – before becoming eligible for services. After they become eligible, however, they will be able to claim retroactive reimbursement for any health services they had to pay for during the waiting period.

The issue was a priority for Yesh Atid over the past year. A year ago, one of its MKs, Adi Kol, told members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that her party would not support a renewal of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law unless health and welfare services would be made available to those spouses who lack status but live in Israel legally.

The party voted in favor of extending the law for another year after the regulations were finalized.

The bill to extend the law passed 42-15 last week. During the debate, Sa’ar explained that it remained necessary because since the second intifada, there have been too many Palestinians seeking to exploit the family reunification procedures to move about freely in Israel in order to commit terror attacks.

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