Israel’s Socialized Health Care

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Israel has socialized health care.  I never realized what it was until a few weeks ago, when I read a couple of articles that gave a name to the health care system.

First of all, some background: Israel has an identification system in which each person has an identity number that is connected to pretty much everything: bank accounts, health care, drivers’ license, passport, places of study, contracts, phones, and everything else you can think of.  When you fill out a form, you fill it out with your name and ID number.  Sounds scary?  It’s not – as long as the government’s files are safe.  And identity theft is incredibly difficult here.

On to the health care system.  Here is how it works:

Each person has to pay premiums to the National Insurance Institute.  If you don’t pay, you get in trouble.  Why?  Because every citizen is automatically insured by the government.

While everyone is insured by the government, the government is not the one providing the actual health care.  There are four health funds: Meuchedet, Maccabi, Leumit, and Clalit.  These health funds are in direct competition for government funding.  They get paid per head.  Each has its own supplemental insurance plan that you can purchase, that is slightly different than the others’.  The basic basket, however, is identical and “free”.  “Free,” meaning, that it is paid for by your premiums that you pay to the government.

Just to be clear, a housewife (a married woman who does not work outside the home) and a child under the age of 18, do not pay premiums.  If you are a student or unemployed, you pay a minimum fee.  If you are employed, it comes out of your paycheck before you even knew it was there, with you paying part and your employer paying the other part.  What this means for us is that only Yitzchak is paying for health insurance now.  If I teach (or get another out-of-the-house job) again, they will take care of it.  If I don’t work outside the house, I don’t have to pay at all.  So, until our kids turn 18, only Yitzchak has to pay insurance.  Pretty good deal, no?

Now to the doctor visits: We are with Meuchedet.  They have a number that you can call to schedule doctor visits and other appointments.  Usually, they will have an appointment free within two weeks, unless you are insisting on going to a doctor who is booked for months on end.  It happens to be that I don’t insist on female religious doctors, so I have never had this happen to me.  Whether for Yitzchak, Shlomo, or myself, there is usually something available for the week you want.

Most medicines are 85% subsidized.  Meaning, you only pay 15% of their cost, if you have a prescription.  If you don’t have a prescription, you pay more, but it is usually not expensive.  I know that there are some medicines that are not covered.  Thank G-d, the only one I have encountered so far is birth control (and I didn’t end up filling it).  Please, G-d, I hope that no one in my family ever needs another medicine that is not subsidized – or any medicines that are, but are not benign.

Blood tests are free.  Urine tests are free.  Doctor visits are usually free, unless you are seeing a specialist, in which case you pay 21 shekels (maybe a bit more now – it goes up a bit every year).  OB/GYNS are not counted as specialists in this regard.

Ambulances and hospital visits, if they turn out to be medically necessary, are free.  If they turn out to be unnecessary (a false alarm for a birth, for example), then there is a co-pay, which may or may not be expensive.

Another bonus: You can go to any after-hours clinic that works with your health fund, and they will have your medical records at a swipe of your card.  If your card isn’t working, your identity number will.  In fact, a “temporary card” is a piece of paper, printed on the spot by one of their secretaries, that states that you ordered a card and lists your ID number.  It’s basically proof that this ID is part of their plan.  That’s all.

In short, Israel’s health care system is not perfect, but is definitely a good model for other countries to follow.

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