Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday that she opposes a Health Ministry plan that would provide thousands of asylum seekers in Israel with health insurance, warning that it would encourage them to stay in the country.
Shaked said she “opposes any measure that will lead to illegal infiltrators settling in Israel and will use all the means at my disposal to bring about their departure from the country.” She was responding to a Haaretz report Monday morning about Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz’s desire to implement the plan within the next few weeks.
The plan would provide insurance to anyone defined as a “foreigner who can’t be deported from Israel.” Horowitz wants to finalize the plan before the cabinet starts discussing a new state budget, but he would prefer a plan he could implement by fiat rather than one requiring cabinet approval, which, given the ministers’ divergent opinions, he might not get.
Consequently, a Health Ministry source said Shaked’s opposition was irrelevant, since “this is a decision that is within the [health] minister’s ministerial purview.”
To avoid the need for a cabinet vote, Horowitz will likely choose to expand an existing health insurance program for minors who can’t be deported rather than trying to expand eligibility under the National Health Insurance Law. Under the existing program, which is operated by the Leumit health maintenance organization, parents pay a blanket fee of between 120 and 240 shekels a month ($36-$42) to insure all their children.
Expanding this program would require approval from Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but he isn’t expected to object.
Even though Israel defines asylum seekers as “foreigners who can’t be deported,” they are not entitled to social benefits like National Insurance Institute allowances, health insurance and welfare services. Consequently, some 28,000 adult asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, receive medical treatment only for extreme cases.
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In a Facebook post Monday morning, Horowitz discussed the lack of social benefits for asylum seekers. “This neglect is inhumane,” he wrote. “The state recognizes the fact that the asylum seekers live here, but it doesn’t grant them basic social and health rights.”
“Public health insurance would give them access to community health services, reduce the number of hospitalizations and save lives,” he added. “These people aren’t going anywhere. We have a moral obligation to see to their health.”
When Shaked took office in June, in contrast, she promised to work to either return all the asylum seekers to their countries of origin or encourage their voluntary departure to third countries. “This is a strategic issue,” she said. “We will protect our borders and the country.”
“Israel is a Jewish and democratic state,” she continued, “and I will strive with all my might to implement a responsible immigration policy, while providing suitable solutions for well-founded humanitarian cases.”