Israeli Panel Against Expanding Subsidized Health Care for Foreigners' Kids

Health Minister Horowitz could decide not to adopt the recommendation, which applies to children of foreigners whose visas have expired, but not to asylum seekers' children, who have separate health coverage

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
Children at a vaccination center in south Tel Aviv, last year.
Children at a vaccination center in south Tel Aviv, last year.Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

An interministerial panel has recommended to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz that Israel no longer provide subsidized health insurance to the children of foreigners, migrant health workers and tourists in Israel whose visas have expired – even if the children were born in Israel.

Such a policy, the committee explained, would be aimed in part at “not encouraging migration to Israel for medical reasons.” The recommendation does not apply to children of asylum seekers, who would continue to have medical coverage if the recommendation is accepted.

The committee’s reasoning appeared in a response that the government filed Wednesday to a High Court petition from the Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights. Horowitz is not required to accept the committee’s recommendations, a Health Ministry official noted.

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The existing subsidized health insurance arrangement is the only option available that provides the children at issue with almost identical coverage to what Israeli children are entitled to. The other available option is purchasing a medical insurance policy for foreign tourists, but it is expensive and does not include some coverage that children require.

Medical coverage for children who have no legal resident status in Israel was initially established in 2001, but in the summer of 2018, without any advance notice, the government began refusing to sign such children up for the coverage – in violation of Health Ministry regulations. That prompted Physicians for Human Rights to file its court petition. As a result of the litigation, the interministerial committee was established to recommend a new plan.

Health Minister Nitzan HorowitzCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

“The committee did not see any justification for providing government-subsidized [medical] insurance to people illegally in Israel ... and who are subject to expulsion from the country,” the government’s response stated. But the change would not apply to people who have received temporary resident status in Israel, such as asylum seekers and others, the government told the court.

The committee’s majority recommendation is “based on public health policy, as well as the need not to encourage migration to Israel for medical reasons,” the government’s response stated.

Despite the committee recommendations, the government has renewed its contract with the Meuhedet Health Services health maintenance organization to provide health care to children of foreigners – for another year or until a new arrangement is worked out.

The government asked for another six months to inform the court on progress on the issue. The court issued a temporary order requiring that the children’s current health coverage remain in effect during that time.

The committee was convened to come up with recommendations for health coverage for foreign children in Israel, but in July, shortly after Horowitz took office, he asked the panel to also examine health coverage policy for adult asylum seekers.

The committee recommended that asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who cannot be deported from Israel for humanitarian reasons be included in the government subsidized health plan as well – both adults and children.

“The plan to prevent access to medical treatment for children without [resident] status is a retreat from the practice that was customary up to now and for the past 20 years, and it puts at risk the health and welfare of children and infants who were born in Israel and are being educated here,” Dr. Zoe Gutzeit, the director of the open medical clinic of Physicians for Human Rights, told Haaretz.

“The attempt to manage the Population Authority’s war against ‘illegal migration’ using the Health Ministry and at the expense of the children, while damaging their health, is a moral stain that cannot take hold in Israel.”

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