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Israel Survival Tips: Part 1 – Health Insurance

28 May

This is the first in a series of posts about surviving in Israel prior to and after making Aliyah. I hope that my experiences with Israeli companies and the beaurocratic system can help make a smoother adjustment for others coming to live in Israel. I’ll start by detailing health insurance for both citizens and non-citizens.

Health insurance: every Israeli citizen is entitled to health insurance. However, just saying the words “bituach leumi” (national insurance) is likely to solicit a groan (or worse) from even the most hardened Israelis. Bituach Leumi is probably Israel’s worst public institution, though I have yet to really deal with the IDF. The beaurocracy is crippling and what little service exists is horrendous. Still, if you can navigate the system, you get pretty good health insurance out of it.

Once you make Aliyah, you’re given an immigrant certificate called a “teudat oleh” and a health insurance form. Using these two documents, you can approach Bituach Leumi to request the necessary status for obtaining health insurance. To do this, visit the branch of BTL that covers your area (in Tel Aviv it’s on Yithak Sadeh, open between 8:30 and 12:00 on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday). Yafo has a different branch. Don’t try going there if you live in Tel Aviv – they won’t help you, as I learned.

Once there, you’ll get in line and eventually see a person who will give you some forms to fill out. These forms will ask you about your work experience and other background details. You submit this form and then BTL “processes” it. For me it took 5 weeks, with me calling them every couple days demanding that they speed up the process. Before you leave the office during this first visit, be sure to ask how long to expect it to take and get a phone number – this will save you hours of wasted time.

Eventually, BTL will send you a form which you can use to take to an HMO (“kupat holim”). This form is golden – bring it to the HMO of your choice along with the original form given to you by the MOIA and your “teudat oleh.” They’ll sign you up. Which HMO you choose is a topic for someone else – I understand that there’s relatively little differences between the HMOs, but perhaps some HMOs are better for certain types of health conditions than others. Macabbi and Clalit seem to be the most common, at least in Tel Aviv.

Next you can expect a letter in the mail from BTL detailing how much you have to pay. Even if you don’t work and have no income, you have to pay at least 140 shekels a month, which can be done directly with your bank (details forthcoming in another survival tip post on Israeli banks). If you work, it will be automatically deducted from your paycheck. If you don’t understand the invoices, don’t worry too much. Get someone to explain it to you, but by law BTL cannot cut off your health insurance if you don’t pay on time.

For those who are not citizens of Israel but still want health coverage, there exist several options. One option is to get private insurance through one of the HMOs (Macabbi, Clalit… they all have a plan). Fact is, as I was so kindly told by a Macabbi employee, that it’s a horrible deal. A 24 year old pays about 400 shekels a month and gets virtually no coverage. A better deal is to get private insurance where you pay by the day – essentially tourist insurance, but it covers everyone regardless of status – from a company called Harel (I think you can sign up through Issta, the student travel agency). It’s a bit more than a dollar a day, but the coverage is good. It works a bit like a PPO in the States – you call in and ask for a doctor that participates in the network and they give you a name and number.

For those with more complicated status questions (“halfies”, “ezrach oleh”, etc.), ask me, I may have a tip or two.

Get insured, you’re entitled.