Surviving Israeli Health Care

Stories from Israel’s nationalized system

Tassia Bronston was in Tzfat, Israel this June on a Birthright trip when she came down with tonsillitis. After three days, she had maintained a temperature that reached as high as 102 degrees, which, compounded with Israel’s summer heat, did nothing for her health. The medical staff from Birthright recommended she seek treatment at a nearby hospital.

“It seemed pretty similar to American hospitals,” she said. Except, she added, “I went on Saturday morning and needed to turn off the car, even though I was the passenger, in order for the driver of the vehicle to keep Shabbat.  He then walked home after I was admitted.”

As the United States legislature moves to include a public healthcare option, the Israeli model could serve as a model. But while healthcare tends to be sold as a political issue for the elderly or working class, how does a generation of students and graduates compare their treatment here in the States with the system of the Jewish State?

Many students said that their experience with health care in Israel was comparable to that of the care Stateside. Israel, which has had a hybrid public/private system since 1994, covers its entire population through four private companies, which are heavily regulated by the government and subsidized by taxpayer funds.

The American system is mostly private, which, its defenders point out, provides state of the art technologies and shorter waiting lines. But critics point to the escalating costs that shut out many citizens—47 million Americans are without health care—as proof that the system needs a public option.

According to 2000 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), Israel has the 28th best health care in the world. The study cited its universal treatment, but also pointed out long waits and high taxes. The United States was ranked 37th; the study lauded its responsiveness but criticized its high costs.

Many students have coverage through their parents’ health plans while others receive it through their college with Medicaid. According to a 2008 Government Accountability Office study, about 80 percent of all college students here have coverage and 57 percent of colleges offer health care options. About 30 percent of colleges required students to have insurance, the report said.

Adira, 24, who graduated from Charter Oak State College in 2009, had no problem receiving Plan B, the “morning-after pill,” from a chain-store pharmacy in Tel Aviv in 2005.

“I was freaking out,” said Adira, who was 20 years old at the time. “But I just went up and said, ‘can I please have the morning after pill?’ The pharmacist spoke English perfectly, and she said, ‘just one dose?’” She said that the pharmacist did not even ask for identification.

Adira said it was cheaper in Israel and unburdened from the American religious-political abortion debate. American laws regarding Plan B vary state by state, and more conservative areas may require a parent or guardian for women under 17.

“I’ve gotten it [in America] before but it wasn’t a problem because I live in a liberal area and I had the money,” Adira said. “It would be different if I were in Tennessee.”

Many medical professionals in the US had a favorable opinion of the Israeli system.

Mike Richman, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, worked on an ambulance team in Haifa this summer. He got the job through American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), a team of volunteers and professionals that provides disaster relief, ambulance services and blood services throughout the nation.

“MDA does a very good job in its service because, unfortunately, they have experience with the numerous terrorist attacks they have to respond to,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I have received treatment and worked in both Israeli and American hospitals, and as far as I can tell, both are very good in their services. However, [doctors] are paid as much as school teachers, but are required to do three times the schooling.”

According to Haaretz, a daily Israeli newspaper, Israeli doctors make between NIS 20 and 24 thousand, or $5,000 to $6000 per month, translating to $60 or $70 thousand a year. By contrast, American doctors make over $190 thousand per year, according to NBC news.

Some details of the Israeli system, however, have affected some students’ views of health care in Israel.

“I did notice that not everything seemed to be as “state of the art” as it is in America,” said Bronston. “The ceilings were dirty. I probably wouldn’t have noticed that, but I spent a lot of time laying down looking at the ceiling as I was hooked up to the IV bag.”

3 Older Responses to “Surviving Israeli Health Care”

  1. David Olesker
    August 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    I grew up in the UK with it’s National Health Service, and my wife is from the US with its system of private health insurance. I’ve lived in Israel for most of my life and find Israel’s system superior to either the US or the UK’s for 90%% of what might ail you.
    Fast service from qualified professionals, extensive use of lab tests and cheap (but not free) prescriptions are the result of competition between health care providers.
    The US can’t be beaten for “big ticket” items like high tech tests and advanced surgery. But a modest monthly premium above and beyond the Israeli government’s mandated minimum coverage insures my whole family (11 people) for disastrous situations, including treatment abroad.
    If the US adopted the Israeli system it would be a great idea. If you can’t wait, come back to your people’s homeland and experience the system right now.

  2. Ilene Rosenblum
    August 28, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    I’m rather surprised that someone who keeps Shabbat would ask another Jew to break Shabbat.
    On another note, while Israeli doctors on the average make less than American doctors, all comparable salaries are lower in Israel. Israeli lawyers and teachers also make less than their counterparts in America.

  3. Aaron
    August 28, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    “The American system is mostly private, which, its defenders point out, provides state of the art technologies and shorter waiting lines. But critics point to the escalating costs that shut out many citizens—47 million Americans are without health care—as proof that the system needs a public option.”
    Actually no Americans are without health care. Some are without health insurance, which is a very different thing. Any American who wants health care will get it in any hospital or thousands of clinics.
    And much of the “47 million” number is nonsense. About 30-35% of those are young adults who have decided not to pay for insurance. At least 10 million more are illegal aliens or other people who have decided not to register their presence.
    Unfortunately that number gets thrown around because people started bundling all sorts of different categories and situations together.

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