Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guest Post: Medical Benefits of Israel's Universal Health Care Plan

Medical Benefits of Israel's
Universal Health Care Plan

by Susan Gorgalini

Between claims of socialism, death panels and the end of the American way as we know it, it was easy to overlook hard facts in the recent healthcare debate. Many claimed that the increased costs outweighed the benefit of providing jobs for those who have been in preparation for ICD-10. For several months, the US has awaited a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama's healthcare reform plan. Whether or not the bill weathers its many challenges to become law, the US is in the midst of a dire healthcare crisis. Rates continue to skyrocket, and Medicare struggles to remain solvent.

While a valid healthcare model seems to elude the US, lawmakers might consider a look to one of the nation's chief allies for ideas. Israel's healthcare system is revered around the world. Israel was one of the first places to begin using electronic medical records and streamline their coding processes. Under current law, all Israeli citizens, regardless of religious affiliation or income, are entitled to basic health care as a fundamental right. Even with this unusually open and generous health model, Israel's system continues to offer world class care. Dr. Rafi Cayam, Israel's director of medicine for their Jerusalem district has referred to their model as “an extremely successful healthcare system in absolute terms.”

Despite systemic chaos and turmoil, Israel has done an outstanding job implementing these programs. While their system appears quite modern though, the core of Israel's healthcare system has been in place since before the nation's independence in May of 1948. In the 1990s, the system became more ambitious, as legislation was passed mandating citizens to join one of four employer-deducted healthcare funds, offering basic protection with the option to buy supplementary packages as well. While Obama's plan for universal coverage has met with many detractors, Dr. Cayam considers universal coverage to be a necessity for the success of their system.

Despite the nation's dedication to healthcare for all, recent data suggests Israel may soon have to make some hard choices. The nation works aggressively to keep costs down, having stream-lined the bureaucracy extensively. For instance, 95% of doctors in Israel use computerized medical records, compared to only about 15% of US doctors, providing transparency among different facets of healthcare, and allowing drug interactions and prescriptions to be handled with much greater efficiency.

Yet, even with these steps taken, last year the ambitious system saw all four Israeli health maintenance organizations running deficits ranging from $150 to $700 million, largely due to salary increases for doctors in 2007 and increased sums HMOs have had to pay for hospital stays by their patients. Furthermore, while Israel's high physician to patient ratio helps maintain quality care for patients it has still left many physicians unable to find work in a saturated market.

Despite these financial concerns, many Israeli doctors seem convinced the system will last for some time. “Israel has always been committed to health care for everybody. That's axiomatic,” says Shimon Glick, Chairman of the Division of Internal Medicine at Ben Gurion University. Glick asserts that America still offers the highest quality of healthcare, but maintains that the ethos of available care for all is much stronger in Israel. With a life-expectancy of 81, compared to 78.1 in the US, his opinions are difficult to refute. While Israel's system faces very real challenges, it may be the nation's dedication to the ideal of healthcare for all, regardless of cultural or socioeconomic status that allows it to endure.
Susan Gorgalini is a US writer and researcher

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