Will Elderly Patients Have to Pay $21,000 to Their Incapacitated Migrant Caregivers?

Health Ministry's plan goes to Knesset committee on Monday.

Alon Ron

The Health Ministry is planning to require nursing care patients, the vast majority of them elderly, to pay 80,000 shekels (about $21,000) to a migrant worker in the caregiving industry if it is determined that he or she cannot continue to work for health reasons. The payment will be made via the private insurance company, and is expected to increase the patients’ insurance payments.

The initiative will be brought on tomorrow for the approval of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. The Health Ministry claims that this is the implementation of a High Court of Justice decision of a year ago, which ruled that the health arrangements that apply to work migrants, especially those who have been in Israel for many years, should be similar to those for Israeli residents. But the social welfare organizations claim that this is a partial implementation that does not fulfill the ruling of the High Court.

Early in the month Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman asked the Knesset committee to amend the law regarding health services for migrant workers. The amendment determines that a migrant worker who is a caregiver, has worked in Israel for at least 10 years and has lost his ability to work will receive a one-time special compensation of 80,000 shekels.

The proposal contained no calculation of the cost that nursing patients would have to pay to private insurance companies to finance the additional payment. Attorney Yifat Solel, the legal adviser of Ken Lazaken, a non-profit organization that promotes the rights of the elderly, claimed that the Health Ministry did not examine the feasibility or the cost of the agreement. She added, “The Health Ministry repeatedly treats nursing patients as a nuisance, as a burden and not as people entitled to treatment like any other patient.”

The main criticism from Solel and the migrant workers’ hotline Kav La’Oved refers to the Health Ministry’s claim that the amendment is an implementation of last year’s High Court decision. That ruling accepted the petition of Kav La’Oved submitted in 2006, and determined that a prolonged stay in Israel by migrant workers in the caregiving industry entitles them to health and social security rights similar to those of an Israeli resident.

“The migrant workers cannot be treated only as a means of deriving benefit, an attitude that does not coincide with the value of human dignity,” wrote Justice Edna Arbel. “They cannot be treated like the hewers of wood and drawers of water of Israeli society with their basic needs ignored. Ignoring these obligations towards the foreign workers is exploitation that does not coincide with the values of a Jewish and democratic state and preservation of human rights.”

Although the ruling does not bar the government’s option of arranging the status of work migrants by changing the Foreign Workers’ Law, the justices said repeatedly that it was preferable to do it through a special arrangement in the National Health Insurance Law. Justice Dafna Barak-Erez wrote that the state is obligated to “consider the implications of such an amendment to the Foreign Workers’ Law, including its implications for the costs of the employers, compared to expanding the application of the National Health Insurance Law.

Solel says that the correct way to implement the High Court decision is to amend the National Health Insurance Law. Attorney Hani Ben Israel of Kav La’Oved expresses a similar viewpoint, saying this is “a bad proposal. Instead of making the health arrangements of veteran migrant workers similar to those of Israeli residents, as determined by the High Court, there was an arbitrary decision to award a uniform compensation of 80,000 shekels in the event of loss of the ability to work for all cases – from disability to kidney failure to cancer. This is a tiny sum in comparison to the expenditures required in cases of serious illnesses and prolonged treatment.” She also said that with the exception of the partial amendment, “the government did not address the High Court’s criticism of a series of additional issues related to the migrant workers’ right to health.”

The Health Ministry said, “The relevant ministries conducted a consultation, at the end of which it was decided that of the two alternatives proposed by the High Court, the correct alternative is to amend the Foreign Workers’ Law in a manner that will increase the amount of the workers’ health insurance.”