Israel Stops Health Coverage for Kids of Rejected Asylum Seekers

Thousands of children are at risk of being left without medical coverage

S. and her daughter, January 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

A growing number of migrant workers and asylum seekers without visas are having trouble getting health care for their children, sources told Haaretz, noting that the Health Ministry has changed its policy on health insurance for minors with no status.

According to the sources, the children of asylum seekers whose asylum requests have been rejected are not covered by group protection, a type of coverage given to Eritreans and Sudanese.

“I’ve been in Israel for nearly 10 years working legally as a home care aide. Now I have a baby who’s a month old, ill and at risk of going deaf,” S. told Haaretz.

“All I’m asking is for medical care. I’m very worried, she’s my little baby. I’m in a terrible situation. My employer died three weeks ago, and for this I’ve lost my visa. They can renew my work visa only if I send the baby to the Philippines, but I can’t send her in such dire health. I don’t know what to do; I’m asking for help.” 

>> Eritreans in Israel may finally be recognized as refugees | Opinion

Physicians for Human Rights has seen seven cases of Ethiopian asylum seekers denied health insurance for their children, and two cases concerning children of Nigerian asylum seekers. 

In October, Haaretz reported that the Health Ministry had stopped insuring children whose parents have expired tourist visas. The ministry told Haaretz that it was considering a revision of that policy.

But in the meantime a ministry document made available to Haaretz shows that there has been a decision to exclude these children from care under arrangements once made with one of Israel’s health maintenance organizations, Meuhedet.

“This shall be the case even if in the past a child has been included erroneously in this plan,” wrote Prof. Itamar Grotto, a deputy director general.  

Thousands of children in Israel are at risk of being left without medical coverage as a result, with only urgent cases exempted.

The National Health Law only applies to residents. The ministry set a policy in 2001 to  provide coverage to uninsured minors, based on international charters, entitling them to some care, where the parents pay 120 shekels ($33) a month for one child and 240 shekels for two or more children for full health coverage. This policy also covers the children of asylum seekers and children of migrant workers.

“This is a disaster. The Health Ministry has crossed a red line; there’s no way to justify withholding treatment from dependent minors, even if their parents are in the country illegally,” said Zoe Gutzeit of Physicians for Human Rights.

“We view very gravely this attempt to use their children’s health situations as a means of pressuring their parents to leave the country. The latest step by the Health Ministry prevents critical care from being given to dependent minors and newborns, including those born with disabilities, and children attending Israeli schools, and could have terrible consequences.”

S. was in the country legally until three weeks ago, having worked for two employers since arriving in 2001 as a home aide. She gave birth early in December, shortly before the death of a woman she had cared taken care of for nine years.

The baby was born with an ear deformity requiring frequent examination, and a doctor recently said she needed surgery; otherwise she might go deaf. But S. was denied coverage for the necessary treatment even under the arrangement that had been in effect with Meuhedet. 

In a letter to the ministry, Gutzeit wrote that even if the mother tried to buy a health policy for tourists, it may not cover the infant, as she may be denied treatment for a condition predating the start of the policy. Denying her care under the previous HMO arrangement “withholds critical care that could have a critical effect on the baby’s proper development,” Gutzeit said.

R., a Nigerian whose request for asylum was denied, has also failed to obtain health insurance for her children. She was denied a request to renew coverage she once had under the HMO for her son, and to buy a new policy for another child.

One of her children recently broke an arm at school, and though the arm has been set in a cast, the child is unable to receive necessary the physiotherapy.  

Physicians for Human Rights said it had also received complaints from seven single mothers from Ethiopia denied asylum requests. Some have appealed their denial of care. One was denied care for a toddler but the ministry has denied her requests.

Two of her daughters, who are older, still have insurance because they were in the HMO arrangement beforehand, so in her case she has some children being denied care. Some of the children denied care have chronic illness such as diabetes and Down syndrome.