The booming industry that attracts foreigners to Israel for medical procedures is chipping away at the nation’s equal access to healthcare, according to an annual State Comptroller’s report issued this month in response to research by Haaretz, a portal devoted to news in the Middle East.
Despite the establishment of a Health Ministry committee to implement government supervision of the growing industry, regulation drafted by the ministry in June 2011 based on recommendations by an expert panel has yet to be formally adopted. Just recently, Haaretz published data received under the Freedom of Information Law that shows that in the absence of government supervision, health tourism at government-owned hospitals grew 220 percent in the two years between 2009 and 2011. According to data presented during the Knesset debate following the research findings, in the first half of 2009 alone more than 23,000 tourists arrived in Israel for medical treatments.
The State Comptroller’s findings are that medical tourism is akin to private healthcare, and, thus, harms the principle of equality. The comptroller’s report warned that as medical tourism grows at privately run hospitals, a likely result will be the poaching of staff from public hospitals.
Medical tourists from the United States, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe travel to Israel for its state-of-the-art facilities and highly skilled physicians who are trained to handle complex treatments that may not be available in other countries and at a fraction of the cost. Israel is ranked among the top 28 healthcare systems in the world because of its cancer, fertility and IVF treatments and neurosurgery and oncology surgeries.
Despite almost two years since it was first publicized, nothing in the Health Ministry’s draft of the regulation has yet been implemented. The draft states, among other things, that every hospital will give preferential treatment to Israeli residents ahead of medical tourists; medical tourism services will not exceed 5 percent of the medical center’s turnover; profits from medial tourism will be used for developing hospital infrastructure; and that a certain percentage of government hospitals’ profits from medical tourism will be dedicated to the development of hospitals in Israel’s geographic periphery.
“The ministry supervises medical tourism in the hospitals, reviewing operations every year in order to verify that they do not exceed the level recommended by the expert committee,” the Health Ministry stated. “The committee recommendations were formulated in a director-general’s memo, but at a certain stage following a different policy expressed in discussions with the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office and in accordance with the new policy formulated by the ministry with the goal of regulating the area of medical tourism in Israel, it was requested to hold-off [issuing] the memo until a comprehensive policy decision is reached by all relevant authorities. The position of the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry on this matter is identically and medical tourism will be restricted at hospitals that don’t supply available services to the public health system.”