Israel’s Universal Healthcare System Faces Collapse

Israel’s hospitals are dangerously overcrowded, and many doctors are leaving for higher salaries abroad

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Israel is often touted for having superb healthcare. But here in Israel, folks these days are more likely to be complaining about, rather than praising the healthcare system.

For the past couple weeks, the front pages of local newspapers have been occupied by urgent headlines of the healthcare system's imminent collapse.

Now, this is an election season, and pointing out the problems in the healthcare system is an effective way for the left-leaning media to take jabs at the current right-wing government. But that doesn't make those problems any less real.

Israel's healthcare system is universal, or "socialist." Everyone is supposed to have access to the exact same medical care (though that's no longer really the case, as we'll get to shortly). But what really made Israel's healthcare stand out was the quality and dedication of the medical professionals involved.

Unfortunately, the past decade or so has seen a great many of Israel's best and brightest doctors and nurses seek employment abroad (interestingly enough, capitalist America is where most prefer to go) in response to the shamefully-low salaries here at home. Many of the top doctors who choose to remain now spend much of their time on the clock providing "private" care to that small percentage of Israelis who can afford it, making Israel's healthcare (or, at least, the best of it) no longer really "universal."

On top of all that, Israel's hospitals are now overcrowded to the point of collapse. Many of the aforementioned newspaper headlines decried the fact that patients in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere are being put in hallways and even storage rooms for lack of actual hospital beds.

In a very telling remark published on Tuesday by Makor Rishon, Prof. Naiel Basharat, head of the Internal Medicine Department at Emek Medical Center in northern Israel, said that when his own father was deathly ill a year ago "I chose to take care of him at home … because of the situation in the hospital wards, even my own ward."

This is not necessarily an indictment of universal healthcare. Israel made it work, and work well, for decades. But it is a warning for those paying attention that universal healthcare is not without its own unique challenges and problems, some of which can lead to a collapse of the system if not managed responsibly.

PHOTO: Israel's hospitals are dangerously overcrowded and underfunded, and many of its best doctors have already sought greener pastures abroad. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)


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