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Knesset Passes Landmark Health Plan That Provides Coverage to All Citizens

Following 22 hours of deliberations, the Knesset on Wednesday passed into law a national health insurance plan that will insure all Israeli citizens.

The Knesset voted 68 to 0, with 27 abstentions from the Likud benches.

Amir Peretz, chairman of the Knesset committee that steered through the law, described the new health legislation as “the bill of rights of the Israeli citizen.”

The national health insurance law, which has been decades in the making, has not been without its share of controversy.

A strong backer of health reform, Chaim Ramon stepped down as health minister in late January when the Cabinet rejected an original form of the bill.

The Cabinet at that time had not wanted to break the link between the Histadrut trade union federation and the Kupat Holim Clalit, or General Sick Fund, the country’s largest health maintenance organization, which currently insures some 70 percent of the Israeli population.

But Ramon then left the Labor Party to run for the post of secretary general of the Histadrut. When he won that nationwide election, he succeeded in ousting the Labor Party from its traditional control of the federation.

Wednesday’s Knesset vote, which provided a second victory for Ramon, will break Histadrut’s hold over the country’s health services, a hold it has enjoyed since pre-State days.

That control often forced large segments of the population to retain union membership in order to gain health insurance.

The linkage between Histadrut and Kupat Holim also led to a situation in which the government was forced to subsidize trade union health care without being able to exercise control over how monies were spent.

That state of affairs came to a crisis in recent days, when Kupat Holim was reported on the verge of bankruptcy.

The government, in turn, found itself caught between its responsibility to see that millions of Israelis were not left without health services and a reluctance to bail out the fund.

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