Adv. Romi Honig is a long-distance runner. For two decades she has lived and breathed the National Insurance Institute, whether through her active involvement in influential legislation in the field of national insurance, or in continuously accompanying clients, in some cases for many years. And like a long-distance runner she is equipped with determination, patience and faith in justice – and the results change fates, not only that of a specific client, but the fate of an entire group.
In addition to managing the law firm she owns in Ramat Hachayal in Tel Aviv, which handles all aspects of receiving benefits from the National Insurance Institute, Adv. Honig serves as chair of the Tel Aviv Bar Association’s National Insurance committee and as vice chair of the national NII forum, after she joined the Bar Association committees as a volunteer eight years ago with the aim of contributing her experience to improving the situation in this sensitive field. As part of her role, she sits on committees that deal with this issue, gives opinions on topics of legislation related to national insurance, and promotes revolutionary processes that positively affect all of our lives.
“I think that the NII doesn’t always give a genuine and complete solution to people who need it,” says Adv. Honig, age 48, married and mother of four, who devotes her days to the war for justice. “The conditions and policy are rigid – and therefore often people slip through the cracks, and these are people who are in the most vulnerable state; what is more, most of us are unaware of our rights.”
This is a war in every sense?
“Exactly. And why does it have to be a war? The bottom line is that I greatly believe in my clients, and I believe that justice should not only be heard but should also be seen.”
A doctor with a double role? No longer
One of the most significant revolutions advanced by Adv. Romi Honig was related to the NII medical committees, which sometimes heap obstacles on people who are seeking to realize their rights. “These committees have always been perceived by the legislator as an objective body, and therefore there was nothing to prevent the doctors on the medical committees from serving at the same time as doctors who advise the labor courts in procedures against the NII,” Adv. Honig explains. “To us it seems obvious but when you view the medical committees as an objective body, you don’t see any reason why the same doctors should not also serve as experts on behalf of the court.”
She says that the situation disturbed many lawyers in the field, angered them and she decided to fight. She raised the subject in several different cases that she conducted, until she achieved a precedential ruling that led to a change in policy.
Where have you encountered the problem of this lack of separation?
“In the past, doctors who worked at the NII could also serve as doctors on behalf of the labor courts in procedures against the NII, and it was evident that the doctors who sit on the committees are stricter in the opinion they give in the labor courts. In the past the Supreme Court ruled that there is no objection to this on the grounds that the medical committees are independent and objective. Over the years I presented requests in various cases not to appoint doctors who rule in the medical committees as experts on the behalf of the court on the grounds of a conflict of interests; however, in view of the Supreme Court ruling it was decided that there is no objection to doing so. In the end I came to the national court with two cases in which the discussion was combined, and the court ruled that experts on behalf of the court cannot also serve on NII medical committees, and they have to choose one of the two.”
What other subjects does the NII forum in the Bar Association advance?
“The national forum in collaboration with the NII promoted establishing an interface for lawyers that enables efficient work in NII cases. I was a member of the team that led this step, as it was important to us that in claims against the NII the lawyer handling the case would be able to get the full picture of the client’s medical and insurance situation in order to maximize their ability to help the client. For example if someone is injured in two accidents, it is necessary to find out which accident caused their medical condition and then to state it in the claim form that is presented.”
Adv. Honig adds that “In addition I acted on the subject of the law to limit lawyer’s fees. The Knesset did not understand the difference between commercial companies for acquiring benefits and representation by a lawyer and legal handling of procedures against the NII. I conducted a determined and just dialogue in the Knesset on this subject, which the organizations of disabled people joined, and we won. I also promoted subjects connected to maintaining dignity and freedom of occupation. The national forum deals with many complaints about irregular conduct in the NII’s medical committees and has recently petitioned the Supreme Court. Apart from this I lecture a lot, including voluntarily in nonprofit associations, where I give pro bono consultations that contribute to the information about everything involved in mapping and receiving rights from the various entities when a medical incident occurs.”
What do you do with the “feeling that the state has betrayed you”?
Adv. Romi Honig isn’t just involved in big revolutions. Her firm also constantly deals with the fate of her clients, each person and their story, and the legal solution given by the firm includes all aspects of national insurance – disabilities, work accidents, exemption from income tax for health reasons, leave from work due to complications of pregnancy, childbirth allowance, unemployment benefits, employee–employer relations, the status of common-law partners, and “any event that is liable to involve entitlement to benefits from the authorities or other entities,” according to Honig.
“My approach is that before realizing rights – you need to map rights, which only a lawyer can do. When someone comes to me and tells me about their situation, whether a medical condition or a personal or work situation, it is necessary to map their rights, that is to say to examine what their possibilities are,” she says. “You can only choose what is the most correct action when the map of rights is spread out before you, including examining the need to receive pension advice. Therefore, there is a need for legal advice.”
Twenty years ago, she says, the term “medical rights” came into use, and she adds “I think that there is no such thing as a “medical right,” but rather a legal right that is derived from the medical condition or functioning. Therefore, when a person has a medical condition, they need to examine what they are entitled to – whether their medical condition was caused as a result of work, whether their medical condition has caused a lack of work capacity; whether the right they have in the insurance company conflicts with national insurance rights; if the medical condition is the result of a traffic accident on the way to work – which should you claim from first, the NII or the insurance company, and can you claim from both of them? These are the things at the heart of the legal profession, and these are the things the firm does.”
One of the cases that Adv. Honig accompanied for many years continued for 16 years, and focused on a father who became disabled in an irregular incident. The family contacted her firm after the NII rejected the claim. The case illustrated the need for legal advice for the family who were in a crisis vis-à-vis the various entities, and needed to examine all their rights and make the right decisions. Adv. Honig believed the client was right and fought undauntedly. The local court rejected the claim three times and victory was achieved in the appeal to the national court that ruled that it was a work injury.
According to Adv. Honig, the case was won only after the client died, but his widow received a dependent's allowance for the victim of a work accident instead of a widow’s allowance. “The differences are very significant,” Adv. Honig says. “Instead of receiving a widow’s allowance of 2,000 shekels, the widow received an allowance of tens of thousands of shekels. The difference is vast as he had earned a high salary.
COVID-19 has presented Adv. Honig with two interesting issues. “During the period of the COVID-19 lockdowns, when everyone was in a state of confusion and uncertainty, the firm’s work on the subject of unemployment pay and residency increased,” she says. “For example, many people who worked in family firms and applied for unemployment pay were rejected by the NII on the grounds that they were not regarded as employees because it was a family business. For example, women who worked in their husbands’ business or people who worked in their parents’ business. In each case the circumstances were different, but in most cases, these were people who worked in the family business and received a salary and received pay stubs, and they had to fight for their rights and prove that employer-employee relations existed. Why did a person who worked in a family business have to fight with the authorities and prove their claims in court? Why is it not the default?”
She continues and says that another issue that accounted for a large volume of work during the COVID-19 period was residency and the rights derived from it opposite the NII and the health funds – people who had been living abroad for many years, and returned to Israel during the COVID-19 period discovered that they were no longer residents, and that they had lost all their rights, although they had paid national insurance during all the years they were not in Israel. “This was evidently a very sensitive issue for these people, a feeling that ‘the state has betrayed me’,” says Adv. Honig, “I served in the army, paid taxes, and now the state rejects me. These people spoke with genuine pain, but each case was examined on its merits and unfortunately, in the light of the law’s instructions, it was not always possible to help them.
“Additional claims that were handled by the firm due to COVID-19 were on the subject of workers who were infected with COVID-19 at work. After collecting all the relevant information, the claims were presented to the NII and were recognized as ‘work-related injuries’ and the clients received benefits. There are clients who suffered from post-COVID symptoms such as difficulty breathing, muscular pains, headaches and more, and these symptoms can result in additional benefits and disability points.
Why did you choose this field specifically?
“I think that the field chose me. Just before I began my law studies I was injured in a sports accident, due to which I underwent a lengthy rehabilitation process, and I had to deal with the NII and the insurance firm. I discovered how inaccessible the process is, and along with coping with my medical situation I also had to contend with complex bureaucracy.
“That’s what we’re here for – the firm’s relationship with its clients is very personal, we are very available and we accompany them closely, including representing and accompanying the client in the medical committees and of course in the labor courts and in the law courts,” Adv. Honig concludes. “We do everything necessary so that justice will prevail with the aim that the client will receive all the rights they are legally entitled to, and to be the bright spot in the predicament they have unwillingly got into.”
Romi Honig law firm
Address: 18A Raoul Wallenberg, Building C, Ramat Hachayal, Tel Aviv