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Israel’s New Initiative to Develop Medical Tourism Sector

Israel’s New Initiative to Develop Medical Tourism Sector

Friday September 14, 2012

The global medical tourism industry is nearing $100 billion in annual revenue. Israel has become a growing part of this global industry. Indeed, Israel has become such an attractive destination for medical tourists that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman recently submitted a plan to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would allow Israel’s public hospitals to allocate some of their resources to foreign patients.

Under Litzman’s proposal, peripheral hospitals in Israel would be allowed to reserve as much as 15 percent of their activity to providing medical care to tourists. Government-run hospitals would be permitted to allocate up to 10 percent of their activities to these types of patients.

Another aspect of Litzman’s proposal is to create a new, private hospital that would be entirely dedicated to providing medical treatment to foreigners. Israelis wouldn’t be permitted to get treatment at this hospital. However, Litzman contends that’s one of its advantages in that it would help ensure that all the other Israeli hospitals won’t try to prefer foreigners to treating Israelis. Indeed his proposal includes other restrictions, such as only allowing hospitals treating foreigners to schedule operations after standard working hours, designed to ensure that Israelis still have access to medical treatment.

This proposal comes on the heels of a meeting convened by Harel Locker, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, on the topic of medical tourism. Locker met with senior officials from finance, health, and tourism ministries and asked them to develop a proposal to increase medical tourism to Israel.

The annual revenue for medical tourism in Israel has jumped nearly 50 percent from 2010 to 2011 and is worth tens of millions of dollars to Israel each year. Medical tourism revenues are calculated including the travel, accommodation, and other tourist-related expenses like shopping, in addition to the cost of the actual procedure. Even so, the Finance Ministry isn’t as enthusiastic about increasing Israel’s capacity for medical tourism as are the health and tourism ministries.

The Finance Ministry’s main concern is the cost medical tourists will have on the country’s ability to provide quality medical services to Israelis. Specifically, the ministry is concerned about crowding in Israeli hospitals and that hospitals will start preferring the higher paying foreigners to local patients. In addition, the ministry is concerned that a rapid increase in foreign medical tourists will push the costs of medical treatment up for Israelis as they have to compete with foreigners for medical attention.

As noted, Litzman did try to address these concerns in his proposal. It’s unclear if his suggested remedies alleviate the concerns of the Finance Ministry. However, Litzman remains committed. He wrote in a letter he delivered to the prime minister along with his proposal, “A great many people from around the world want to come and be treated in Israel. It will bring significant and welcome income to the country and, properly managed, the amounts will be considerable.”

Currently, most of Israel’s medical tourism is in the area of cancer treatment, although in-vitro fertilization is also popular. Most of Israel’s medical tourists come from nearby countries like Cyprus and Bulgaria, where some advanced treatments might not be available, and from the United States, where the costs for many procedures are quite high even with insurance.

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Tags: medical tourism, Israel, state hospitals, healthcare, private hospitals, cancer treatment, IVF, surgery, international patients

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