The Health Ministry has stopped providing medical insurance for children of parents who entered Israel on tourist visas, but which have since expired, Haaretz has learned.
There are thousands of children who may be affected by the change and who would be left in Israel without medical coverage other than in emergencies. In accordance with the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory, the children are entitled to medical coverage.
For the most part the children have been living in Israel for years, despite the expiration of their parents’ tourist visas. Most of the parents, about 70 percent of whom are from the former Soviet Union, have stayed on in Israel illegally to work.
Because Israel’s public health care law provides medical coverage only to legal residents, the Health Ministry made special arrangements in 2001 to provide medical coverage to minors who are not covered by the law. The coverage for the foreign minor children was explained in a circular issued by the ministry’s director general as being based on the international convention. The services have been provided by Israel’s third-largest of four health maintenance organizations, Meuhedet, for a fee of 120 shekels ($33) a month, payable by their parents, or for 240 shekels a month for two or more children.
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Recently, however, the ministry has halted the arrangement, claiming that it has been flooded with requests. As a result, the children of the parents who have remained in the country after the expiration of their tourist visas are being denied regular medical care for their children through Meuhedet.
The legal adviser to the Tel Aviv health district, Shulamit Lerman, said those who overstay their tourist visas have not been automatically entitled to enroll their children for medical coverage. “In the past, because there was a handful [of cases], we were not meticulous [in enforcing the procedure] but now, when we have been flooded, we are checking the visas that these people have used to come to Israel.”
Physicians for Human Rights took issue with such an interpretation and said it results in injustices to the children affected and is a violation of medical ethics.
According to information provided by Meuhedet to Physicians for Human Rights, as of May, 8,110 children of parents without legal status in Israel were covered under the program. For comparison, in 2012 the figure was only about 2,500.
The Health Ministry said in response: “The insurance arrangement with Meuhedet was designed to provide insurance to the children of foreign populations that are not subject to expulsion. The insurance is subsidized by the ministry and is also designed for the children of foreign workers but not tourists. With regard to the children of tourists whose visas have expired, until recently there have been isolated cases every year that have been approved on an individual basis. It is our understanding that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tourists whose visas have expired, primarily from Eastern European countries, and the matter is being examined at the moment.”
For these children, the options for medical care have been greatly reduced, relegating some parents to waiting until their children’s condition is serious, at which point they are entitled to emergency room medical care in life-threatening situations. But following their discharge from the hospital, there is still no coverage for follow-up treatment.
Commercial insurance companies offer medical coverage for foreign nationals in Israel, but they are generally expensive, meant to be short-term and come with limitations. They are not designed to cover children, particularly children who are in Israel for an extended period.