It may not be the reason most people move to Israel, but the idea of universal access to quality healthcare had nearly 100 prospective olim on the edge of their seats at a recent Aliyah fair held in Midtown Manhattan.
The fair, hosted by The Jewish Agency for Israel, along with Nefesh B’Nefesh , the Jewish National Fund  and Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption , was an opportunity for individuals and families considering Aliyah to learn about the process and the programs available to ease their transition. Workshops focused on career planning, higher education, army service and, of course, Israel’s healthcare system.
“It makes me jump for joy and shout from the rooftops,” says Noam Gittel Cohen of Bergenfield, NJ. He’ll be making Aliyah in July with his wife and two teenage sons. “We would have made Aliyah anyway, but [affordable healthcare in Israel] is an added bonus.”
At a time when rising health insurance premiums in the United States burden the economy and squeeze middle class households, all Israeli citizens – regardless of age, religion or pre-existing conditions – are entitled to basic health insurance for a nominal premium (three to five percent of an individual’s salary), that is automatically deducted from each paycheck. On average, the co-pay is seven shekels (less than $2 dollars) per visit.
This basic coverage includes doctor visits, diagnostic and lab services, hospitalization, birth, fertility treatments for two children per family and discounts on prescription drugs. Olim do not have to pay the premium during their first year in Israel. After a year, if an oleh is still looking for work, he or she pays about 150 shekels per month for health coverage.
In Israel, each citizen is able to choose from among four plan providers, all of which offer identical basic coverage. Most Israelis choose to purchase relatively inexpensive supplemental coverage for certain medications, “second opinion” consultations with specialists outside the plan, dental care, surgery abroad and alternative medicine. According to the Jerusalem Post, in 2012, the average amount paid by an Israeli for supplemental health, each year, was between 500 and 600 shekels.
New Yorker Julie Zukof, 30, recently spent five months in Israel. She purchased traveler’s insurance before she left and “racked up” more than $1,500 in health costs in Israel for strep throat, an unexpected allergic reaction, bronchitis and a broken arm that she sustained in a biking accident. After this experience, Zukof, a marketing consultant, said that affordable healthcare in Israel is an important factor as she considers Aliyah. She was grateful for the firsthand opportunity to better understand Israel’s health system.
“My parents always taught me to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Zukof says. “While we can’t say its ‘free’ [healthcare in Israel is] a lot more affordable and democratic. The fact that it’s not job-dependent is also critical. It encourages people to be entrepreneurial. People ask why Israel is ‘start-up’ nation, and I think universal healthcare is a big part of it.”
Related: read about the Aliyah Fair that took place in Washington, D.C. here: http://washingtonjewishweek.com/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=4&ArticleID=18990