Turning Personal Tragedy Into a Call to Action

Widower of cancer victim devotes himself to establish project helping English-speaking immigrants navigate Israeli health care system.

When Gabe Pransky realized that the health care plan his cancer-stricken wife Shira was signed up for entitled her to better care than she actually received, it was already too late. By the time he had filled out the necessary paperwork to receive the additional aid she could have used so badly, she died at the age of 26. A victim of lymph node cancer, Shira − who had made aliyah with her family when she was 12 − left behind her husband and their son Yoseph Zerachya, who was two and half at the time.

But instead of being angry with his wife’s HMO or the Israeli health care system in general, Pransky, 30, decided to take the lesson his personal tragedy taught him and put it to good use. After months of planning and research, he recently launched The Shira Pransky Project, which seeks to assist English-speaking patients by advocating on their behalf and educating them about their rights and the various means of support available to them.

Shira Pransky with her baby

“It wasn’t until after Shira had passed away that I realized how much more security and comfort we could have experienced. That’s when the idea bubbled up that there needed to be better resources and that I had something to bring to the table in terms of providing these resources,” said Pransky, who grew up in Philadelphia and today lives in Jerusalem. A Jewish educator by profession, Pransky is working full time on the project.

Blogs and brochures

The Shira Pransky Project, which he runs together with his friend Nechama Rausman, is primarily an online venture. On shirapranskyproject.org, Anglos can read explanations about their rights as patients and the many different services available to them. Besides blog entries about the merit of supplemental insurance, things to know about one’s HMO and the like, readers will find information about various patient support organizations and many other helpful resources.

Pransky and Rausman also translate forms, documents and brochures into English, sending them to HMOs and making them available on the website. Pransky has also met with social work department heads in several hospitals and officials from the Social Affairs Ministry to explore options to improve services for Anglos.

One of the project’s first publications was a one-page “Quick Reference Guide to Benefits and Services for Medical Patients,” which covered everything from transportation reimbursements for oncology and dialysis patients ‏(from one’s HMO‏) to attendance allowance for those who need assistance with dressing, eating, in-home mobility and basic functioning ‏(from the National Insurance Institute‏). The checklist can be downloaded on the project’s site.

Shira Pransky nee Davidovich was first diagnosed with cancer when she was 16, before she met Gabe and just four years after her family arrived in Israel.

“My in-laws didn’t have the minimum of state-provided support,” Gabe Pransky said. “She wasn’t event on disability [i.e. she didn’t receive general disability benefits from the NII], which is standard for any cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. They also weren’t getting everything they could out of the HMOs, and I’m sure they weren’t getting the tax breaks. I wonder how many bases were covered but I know not many. And I’m sure it was difficult for them.”

While Gabe Pransky had lived in Israel on and off for several years, he only officially immigrated in 2009, shortly after Shira’s cancer had reappeared for the third time. Soon after his aliyah, he received a phone call from his HMO to discuss different insurance options. As soon as the person on the other line mentioned one option that entitled clients considered disabled to nursing care assistance, he sat up and took notice.

“I said, could you do me a favor and check if my wife has that insurance? She looked it up and said, yes, she does.”

Pransky immediately applied for a personal assistant for his wife, who had undergone an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant and whose health was rapidly declining.

“We had just finished going through the necessary paperwork when she passed away,” the soft-spoken Pransky told Anglo File recently in Jerusalem. “We never realized we had the right to something that would have made a significant impact on our lives, certainly for the last six months of her life.”

Ultimate faith in the system

Yet there is no bitterness in Pransky’s voice when he speaks about the Israeli medical system. He actually said he has more faith in Israeli doctors than those his wife saw when they temporarily lived in the U.S. “I have a very positive view of patient support infrastructure in Israel − there is so much available, and it can be good quality as well. Good health care is available to practically everyone,” he said.

However, the problem is that most Israelis just don’t know what’s available to them, Pransky said. “We’re all paying for great services, but there is an amazing potential that we’re not even aware of,” he added. “So it passes us by even when we need it. Most people don’t know they have the right for private consultation, or that there are easy ways to get appointments in their HMO. It’s available to you, you just don’t know about it.”]

Naturally, new immigrants are the group most confused about the health care system − and those from English speaking countries can easily fall between the cracks, according to Pransky. “Israeli society sometimes has the impression that Anglos can take care of themselves,” he said. As a result, many Anglos are frustrated with the Israeli health system.

“It’s easier to complain than to submit to the concept of integration to society and learning to navigate a foreign system,” Pransky said. Rants about the bureaucracy and opaqueness of the public health field in Israel might be justified but not constructive, he added. With the Shira Pransky Project, he is trying to minimize the reasons for rants.

A recent post, for example, could make many patients’ lives a lot easier. In three sentences, it explained the words hafnaya ‏(a referral to a specialist‏) and hithayvut ‏(a payment voucher from one’s HMO, usually necessary for services from other institutions‏). “Those are the basic building blocks for navigating the Israeli health care system,” Pransky explained. “But I am certain that a significant segment of English speakers in Israel are not aware what these words mean.”