More than 25 years after legislators recommended the change in one of “those committees,” Israelis might actually be able to obtain timely local mental health care.
Responsibility for mental health services is being transferred from the Health Ministry to each of the four Health Maintenance Organizations (kupat holim services).
The decision was announced Monday by Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman, who had opposed the very same move the last time he served in the post. This time, he told reporters at a news conference held on the sidelines of a health conference at the Dead Sea, “the situation is not good and the alternatives are worse.”
In 1989, the State Commission to Improve the Health System headed by then-Justice Shoshana Netanyahu (Supreme Court) recommended the change.
The National Health Insurance (Bituach Leumi) Law of 1994 was intended to carry it out, adding both geriatric and psychiatric care to that year’s “basket” of health care services.
It didn’t happen, however, because the well was dry: there was only enough money for general medical care. Geriatrics and mental health were placed on the back burner.
With the change taking effect July 1, there will also be an annual budget of NIS 1.9 billion available to address mental health care. Patients will be asked to pay a 25 percent co-pay for specialist services, and if they prefer to see a private mental health professional, the cost will be NIS 130.
The four HMOs will offer mental health diagnostic services, psychiatric assessment, counseling, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, individual, family and group care, home visits and other needed care. Collateral family sessions will also be available to help family members learn how to deal with disturbed loved ones.
As usual, the Histadrut Labor Federation has announced a dispute over the action. Various groups in the mental health field are also expressing their concerns over the way the change is being carried out.
But Litzman said the move is absolutely necessary in order to improve the quality, accessibility and availability of mental health services in the nation.
Under the new structure, mental health therapy will be recognized as part of medical treatment and family practitioners – pediatricians for children – will make referrals for care to existing or new mental health clinics. Those in need of acute services will still be able to go directly to outpatient clinics and hospital or psychiatric emergency rooms when necessary, Litzman said.Hana Levi Julian