The Ministerial Committee on legislation approved on Sunday afternoon a bill to regulate medical tourism to Israel.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman welcomed the decision.
Such a law will “create order in the field of medical treatment for tourists to Israel and contribute to the health system in general,” he said.
“On one hand, we want to have medical tourism, while ensuring proper treatment for those who come for it,” Litzman said. “On the other hand, we want to make sure that it will not come at the expense of Israelis and that the income from medical tourists will be invested for strengthening the public health system.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said he was pleased by the vote, as in recent years medical tourism has become a profitable export industry that brings in a lot of foreign currency and supplies taxes, employment and a financial boost to medical institutions.
Once patients come here, they learn about Israel, thus its image is improved and its “beautiful face” becomes apparent to visitors, he added.
Israel is the world’s thirdmost popular medical-tourism destination overall for 2016 after Canada and the United Kingdom, according to a recent report released by VISA and Oxford Economics.
Until now, despite Israel’s prominent role as a destination for medical tourists, the industry has been dealt with only partially up to now, causing confusion in hospitals and among medical practitioners on what they may or may not do.
There are three central principles to the bill on its way to the Knesset: The state has the obligation to ensure that Israeli citizens have top priority to high-quality medical care; income from medical tourism be invested in public medicine; and foreigners are to receive high-quality and ethical medical care as part of developing the field long term.
The bill would create a registry of agents for medical tourism, with minimum qualifications set for applicants.
Agents must be committed to fairness, protect personal privacy and provide full information for which the tourist will sign before leaving his home country; they will be prohibited from setting conditions that involve taking additional services; and they will be identified as agents by name tags in medical institutions.
The bill also requires contacts with patients be made only with cooperation of the management of hospitals and not privately by physicians. The hospitals must also provide the Health Ministry with ongoing data on the medical tourism procedures they carry out. Additional steps will be taken to make the activities transparent so that the amount of income hospitals receive and how it is used be open to the public.
The Israel Patients Rights Association said it favored the bill. Its head, Shmuel Ben-Ya’acov, said it was proper because of the large number of foreigners who come here each year for medical procedures. “But at the same time, the health system here has many challenges to overcome, including reducing crowding in hospitals and the long queues for certain treatments that reduce the quality of care.”
Foreign patients should not be admitted to departments where Israeli patients already have to wait a long time for treatment, he said, adding: “The ‘business’ of medical tourism must not come at the expense of Israelis.”