Medical Care in Israel

0415teddyEvery citizen in Israel is entitled to choose between several state-subsidized health-maintenance organizations. I am in the Maccabi HMO. When we first moved here, with five children between the ages of two and nine, I was completely stunned by my children’s doctors visits. In the States, I had to phone our pediatrician days in advance of a check-up, and then I had to set two hours aside for the visit (including the car-ride to and from the doctor’s office, the minimum half-hour wait, and the various “stations” for measuring my child’s temperature, weight, and eyesight). In Givat Ze’ev, a bedroom community, family doctors hours are conveniently arranged from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Even for routine visits, it’s standard procedure to call for an appointment about an hour before you want to come in (this is especially true for the morning hours).

The system works like this. For example your child wakes up in the morning, doesn’t feel well and you need to take them to the doctor. You wait until 7:00 and call for an appointment. You get an appointment for, say, 7:50. At 7:45 you leave your house, walk up the hill (if you live on my block) and arrive exactly on time. You have an excellent chance of being seen immediately. Harvey, our friend and doctor, will typically diagnose the problem very quickly (surprise surprise: ear infection) and give you a prescription for penicillin. By 8:05 you will be walking down the block to the pharmacy. Most medicines  routinely prescribed will cost the minimum co-pay amount of about $4. You get the first dose of penicillin into your child with the spoon and water that you’ve remembered to bring, tell your child that they’re soon going to feel much better, kiss them goodbye, and while you walk back home, they walk five minutes to school, in time for the end of morning prayers at the public religious school of Givat Ze’ev (okay, okay, if the kid really doesn’t feel well, you can take them home with you).

I should mention that the HMO’s are on a quarter system. After you go to an internist once during the quarter and have your eight shekels ($2) co-pay debited from your account, you are not billed again until the next quarter’s visit—no matter how many more times you see your internist that quarter. This is the reason why it’s possible to draw a bell-curve of Harvey’s moods throughout the year, with the high points being at the beginning of every quarter—when everyone he sees is a paying customer.

Harvey, who is from England, which has its own form of socialized medicine, always jokes with me: “You Yanks! You can’t get enough of the medical system here. You just love it, don’t you?” Yes. We do.

Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.

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