Israeli Government Approves Budget Cuts to Fund Healthcare for Ukrainian Refugees Until End of 2023

29.08.23, Bar Peleg, Haaretz


Israel’s government approved budget cuts on Tuesday across all its ministries for the year of 2023 to fund the extension of health coverage for Ukrainian refugees until the end of the year.

This decision follows a suspension of health coverage by the government on August 9th for 14,000 Ukrainian refugees living in Israel resulting in over 100 refugees being sent back from Israeli hospitals without receiving treatment. Health coverage will be reinstated following Tuesday’s decision. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, a separate government decision will be made ensuring continued financing beyond the current year.

The High Court of Justice held an urgent hearing on Tuesday concerning the suspension of medical coverage for Ukrainian refugees. A day before, the state informed the court that Netanyahu intends to put forth a resolution that would allow continued financing of the medical coverage.

According to the draft resolution obtained by Haaretz, the cost of medical coverage for Ukrainian refugees until the end of the year rounds out to 38 million shekels ($10 million). The draft further states that the budget is to be shared by the Finance, Health, Foreign, Jerusalem and National security ministries, each suffering a 6.3 million shekel ($1.6 million) cut in their budget. After the ministries refused to bear the cost, budget cuts were declared across the board.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Health Minister Moshe Arbel objected to the prospect that his ministry would fund medical coverage for Ukrainian refugees staying in Israel, as it may set a precedent that would force the state to insure anyone without legal residency status.

Arbel wrote that the health ministry’s ability to distinguish between the different populations that have no legal residency status “will be jeopardized by the fact that anyone who stays in Israel illegally will be eligible for medical coverage.”

In his letter to Netanyahu, Arbel also stressed that if the health ministry is forced to cut its budget, other health programs will be jeopardized. Arbel then added that his main concern was the possibility that the ministry would be required to finance medical coverage to anyone who has no legal residency status.

“Let’s remember that there are tens of thousands of people in Israel whose legal status has not yet been decided by the state. Some of them are from countries who suffer from political instability and are not entitled to health coverage for obvious reasons,” Arbel wrote.

Attorney Adi Lustigman, the legal advisor for the Physicians for Human Rights who petitioned the High Court, said that “It seems that the ministries are fighting each other at the patients’ expense – women, children and the elderly.”

The Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry, which also opposed the budget cut that would enable the reissuing of the medical coverage, managed to exclude itself from the list. In exchange, it has committed to continue operating the Tzav Hashaa (“Call to Action”) hotline for the Ukrainian refugees. Sources in Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi’s office told Haaretz that their opposition to the budget cut was not due to underestimating the importance of the issue, but rather because health coverage is not a main topic in the ministry’s activities.

In another hearing earlier this month, the health ministry informed the court that the tender for health coverage for asylum seekers had failed and that the state intends to provide such services only to the elderly among the refugees. Arbel told the court in a letter that he intended to review the issuing of the health coverage only for asylum seekers aged 60 and older, whose number is estimated at several hundred out of the approximately 29,000d adults currently residing in Israel.

Arbel further stated that health coverage for all remaining applicants is being examined according to their asylum applications. Sources in Arbel’s office told Haaretz that at this stage, the decision is a matter of prioritization and that the issue is still being discussed.
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