Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman has some ambitious plans in the field of health, including widely expanding state assistance for families whose loved ones need home care and 24-hour-a-day in-home assistance – and to pay for those plans, he seeks an increase in health taxes of 0.5 percent. Opposed to that increase is Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, who has been seeking to lower taxes.
The debate is more than an academic one, and indeed, could lead to a coalition crisis – which Rabbi Litzman said he was prepared to bring about if the new rules on nursing assistance are not implemented, as specified in the government’s coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism. On Tuesday, Rabbi Litzman reiterated in a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the in-home assistance plan was a basic part of the UTJ coalition agreement with the Likud, and that the party expects the government to live up to its obligations.
The reform will significantly relax the criteria for assistance for families who need nursing assistance for the elderly and ill, with workers coming into homes to provide care. Currently, the government is prepared to pay for up to 22 hours of assistance per week; the new rules would increase that to 33 hours, and would also raise the incomes for those eligible to NIS 9,300 ($2,500) a month. In addition, families will not be required to pass income tests in order to qualify for government assistance.
Rabbi Litzman has been promoting this reform since his last stint in the Health Ministry, as deputy health minister in the previous government. According to the coalition agreement, the government is set to bring the law up for a Knesset vote in 2017. Rabbi Litzman has declared on a number of occasions that the matter is important enough to generate a coalition crisis if it is not implemented, but the plan is dependent on an increase in the health tax.
It should be noted that the increase is supported by even conservative economists, like former director of the National Economic Council, Professor Eugene Kandell. With that, sources in the Health Ministry said that Rabbi Litzman was prepared to seek out alternative funding sources, if needed.
A poll last week showed that if elections were held now, United Torah Judaism would double its presence in the Knesset, attaining 12 seats instead of its current six. The findings were part of a poll conducted on behalf of Israel Radio by the Geocartigraphia Institute, headed by Professor Avi Degani. According to Degani, UTJ’s newfound strength is from voters out of the regular chareidi pool of voters, noting that “at least three to four mandates come from non-chareidi voters, some of them Religious Zionist or traditional,” who are impressed with the party’s policy positions. Much of the credit is due to Rabbi Yaakov Litzman for his management of the Health Ministry, said Degani.