Medical tourism has become a major money maker for Israeli hospitals. According to data from recent years, annual revenues in Israeli hospitals from medical tourism amount to NIS 400 million (roughly $120 million.)
Medical tourism is considered a lucrative Industry because, on average, Israeli hospitals charge 30% more from foreign patients than they do from Israeli patients.
A good medical reputation and relatively lower costs as compared to other hospitals around the world draw patients from all over the globe to receive medical care in Israel, and the arrangement is a win-win situation – they get good treatment and hospitals get to boost revenues.
But lately, a debate has surfaced around the question of whether the treatment of foreigners comes at the expense of treatment for Israeli patients.
Yet the reports on the subject barely refer to the thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank who receive medical treatment in Israel each year.
The Palestinian medical system lacks the capacity to fully tend to the needs of the Palestinian population – its hospitals are small and have one bed per one thousand residents as compared with six beds per one thousand residents in Israel.
The Palestinians also lack the proper equipment and personnel; hence, the PA is forced to send patients to neighboring countries, namely Israel, Egypt and Jordan, for medical treatment. The treatment is funded with the PA’s health budgets and medical insurance funds or with aid money from relief organizations. There are Palestinian patients who pay for their own medical treatment.
In 2010, the PA’s medical bill to Israel amounted to about NIS 50 million (roughly $15 million.) In 2011, that bill dropped to NIS 33 million. The decline in payments stems from the fact that the PA health department tightened its policies on approving medical treatment in Israel due to a serious financial crunch in the Authority and it has been sending more patients to receive medical treatment in Jordan and Egypt.
At first glance, it seems that Israel is making a pretty penny on Palestinian medical tourism; however, things are more complicated than they seem when considering the fine details: Israeli’s Health Ministry issued directives whereby hospitals may treat Palestinians only if they have entrance permits to Israel and have a financial liability statement from the PA or a public organization such as a recognized relief organization.
If the patient seeks private care, the hospital must charge for that care in advance.
But calculating the medical expenses for Palestinian patients who demand complicated treatment which may cost more than stated in the medical liability, or for a Palestinian without an entrance permit who arrives at the emergency room, is much more complicated. And what about cases in which Palestinians arrive at the hospital after being involved in work accidents or road accidents?
Either way, beyond questions of humanity and politics arising from these issues, it seems that medical treatment for Palestinians also encompasses significant economic aspects.