Medical Tourism to Israel Tumbles as Ruble Sags

Government hospitals generated medical tourism revenues of $61 million last year, down nearly a quarter from 2013.

Hagai Frid

Declining medical tourism has had clear benefits for Israelis now enjoying shorter waits for hospital services such as surgery, MRIs and cancer care, Israel’s health maintenance organizations say.

Medical tourism to the country has been on a clear downtrend for two years as the sagging ruble makes care in Israel less affordable for Russians and Ukrainians.

According to data from the Health Ministry, government hospital revenues from medical tourism dropped to 237 million shekels ($61 million) last year from 311 million shekels the year before. The figure for 2015 is predicted to be smaller still.

As a result, Israelis are receiving better service and shorter waits, but the HMOs’ deficits are growing as a result. “From a service aspect I’m pleased, but from the financial aspect we have a problem,” said Eli Defes, chief executive of Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO.

The HMOs’ claim also bolsters assertions that medical tourism comes at the expense of Israeli patients, something hospitals had tried to deny.