New Immigrants to Israel Face Difficulties Getting Health Coverage Due to Language Barrier

Authorities fail to provide enough information in languages other than Hebrew, according to a study from the Knesset Research and Information Center.

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Patients line up at a Leumit HMO in Kiryat Gat.Credit: Limor Edrey

Fifteen percent of new immigrants – 5,000 people in 2013-14 – did not register with a health maintenance organization their first year in Israel, lacking information in their native language that would help them sign up.

According to a new study by the Knesset Research and Information Center, many new immigrants end up choosing at random. The research center has presented the report at the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

The law requires everyone over 18 to register with one of the country’s four HMOs, and parents must register their children under 18. Israelis can choose any of the four – Clalit, Maccabi, Meuhedet or Leumit.

The researchers say detailed information is critical for immigrants to receive optimal service, given the differences between the health systems in Israel and abroad.

“Other countries have different systems, so immigrants may be unfamiliar with terms used here such as the National Health Insurance Law, the basket of health services, supplementary insurance and nursing-care insurance,” the study says. “Often, immigrants don’t receive relevant information.”

Immigrants are often pressured to register upon arrival and most do so without knowing the differences between the four HMOs. The Health Ministry does not help them make their decisions, and its website on benefits, deductibles and other key information is in Hebrew only.

There are links to pages ostensibly in Arabic, English, Russian and French, but these lead to the Hebrew page. Officials say these pages are being translated but no completion date has been provided.

There is thus no information on patient rights in other languages, including which services are available and at what subsidized prices. The location of the various health centers is also not provided.

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry also does not provide comparative information. Immigrants are told to register with one of the HMOs, but they are urged to consult with friends and relatives in order to make the choice.

A pamphlet handed out upon arrival has no information on the various services or the basic concepts in Israel’s health care system. But new immigrants are told that registration is necessary in order to receive medical services.

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