Israel's Health Care Outpaces U.S.

Provides Universal Coverage and Better Outcomes, Experts Say

getty images/kurt hoffman

By Nathan Guttman and Nathan Jeffay

Published June 28, 2012, issue of July 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The heated debate over health care reform, reignited by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s plan, has drawn attention, once again, to the issue of government involvement in health care management and the effectiveness of a system based on universal coverage.

For Israel, this is a Rubicon crossed long ago. Despite the country’s mania for most things American, when it comes to health care, Israel chose a system based more on the European model. The government’s role is central as both funder and regulator. Yet, going by many indexes of health outcomes, the result in terms of quality of care is often better — and definitely cheaper than in the U.S. Under the Israeli system, the percentage of the country’s gross domestic product going to health care is less than half that of the United States. And coverage is universal.

kurt hoffman

Stephen Reingold has observed both systems from up close. He is a pediatrician who practiced medicine in New Jersey before moving to Israel in 2009, where he now sees patients in Modi’in.

“One of the first things I noticed in the emergency room was that we only got severe cases,” Reingold recalled of the time he spent at an Israeli children’s hospital. The reason, he later learned, was that “hey, people here have a doctor to go to” and therefore do not end up in the hospital for minor problems, even if they are poor.

Access to doctors on a regular basis is one of the advantages that the universal health care system offers in Israel. It is commonly referred to as a “socialist” health care system, as opposed to the “private” system in the United States, but as a 2010 study comparing the two approaches demonstrated, these descriptions do not reflect their true nature, since both Israel and the United States have a mix of private and public health care.

One example of this hybrid system is Laniado Hospital, in Netanya. It isn’t state-run — even though most Israeli hospitals are — but rather a fiercely independent not-for-profit institution with a strong identity and a proud history. But there is one major difference from the United States: Doctors never need to worry about bills.

“I have to accept every examination the doctors ask for, and I don’t have a say if the doctors recommend giving the patients a very expensive medicine — which is good,” medical director Avinoam Skolnik said.

Health care provision in Israel is made through not-for-profit health maintenance organizations. Six months after the Jewish state was established, in 1948, just 53% of the population had HMO insurance. Israel steadily increased its financial contribution to HMOs, making membership more affordable, and in 1973 it obliged employers to pay contributions toward employees’ policies.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.