Medical tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the field of tourism and health care in Israel. On 23 December 2013 the Knesset Committee for Labour and Health Care discussed issues concerning medical tourism.

The Knesset decided to initiate a special meeting on the subject following a report recently broadcast in the “Fact” programme on Channel 2. The journalists revealed insincere practices of certain doctors who overcharged tourists and demanded cash money for complicated surgeries. Head of the Committee MK Haim Catz announced at the beginning of the meeting that the Knesset was interested in learning more about medical tourism rather than in discussing the report on Channel 2.

Among the specialists who took part in the meeting were Health Minister Yael German, Health Ministry Director Roni Gamzo, Ministry of Tourism Director Amir HaLevy, members of Knesset Shelley Yachimovich, Rena Frankel, former Deputy Health Minister Jacob Litzman, Head of Sheba Medical Centre Zeev Rothstein, representatives of the Israel Association for Medical Tourism Mark Catznelson, Yevgeny Shilman, Dina Vizhnitzer and many others.

Some of the speakers claimed that medical tourists occupied the beds of the Israeli patients in hospitals. Healthcare specialists replied that the treatment of tourists was not provided at the expense of the local population. Professor Rothstein said medical tourism encouraged the Israeli economy and strengthened the health care system. “In 2012 foreign patients comprised only 1.15% of the total number of patients but the hospital’s income from medical tourism reached 6.36% of the total yearly revenue. This is an important source of income for us”, concluded Professor Rothstein.

Other specialists speaking at the meeting emphasised the significance medical tourism had in the process of development of the Israeli health care system. The tourism revenue has been used for the acquisition of new equipment, expansion and balance of the medical centres’ budget. Every year 30,000 patients come to Israel and pay about half a billion shekels to Israeli hospitals. Surgeries and treatments in Israel have become popular due to the high level of the local health care and its relatively low tariffs.

Israeli doctors and acquire important experience while treating the more difficult cases. Furthermore, satisfied foreign patients go back to their home countries and improve the image of Israel. The Health Ministry Director Roni Gamzo declared that the Ministry would not allow the clinics to overcharge tourists. Virtually all the participants agreed there was a need for regulation in the realms of medical tourism and for proper conditions for its further development.

“I am glad the Knesset acknowledged the importance of medical tourism for Israel’s economy and health care. It is a product we can successfully export overseas. Medical tourism improves the image of Israel abroad and has undoubted financial benefits”, said Mark Catznelson of the Association for Medical Tourism.