Report: Israel Unprepared for a ‘Graying’ Future

YERUSHALAYIM -
An elderly man walks down a street in Yerushalayim. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Israel spends on average three times the amount of money on elderly care than is spent in other OECD countries — and a great deal of that expense falls on households who take care of elderly parents and relatives, a new study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies. Over the next several decades, the number of Israelis 70 and over is expected to double, and the cost to the economy will grow dramatically. In the study, the Center said that the economy was “unprepared” to deal with the expense and the social investment required.

By 2035, the study said, the number of Israelis 70 and over will reach 1.24 million, compared to the current 610,000 — with nearly a third of Israelis septuagenarians or older. That means that more elderly will require care, whether at home or in elderly and nursing facilities, as they will be unable to take care of themselves; the disability level of Israelis is expected to grow by 43 percent, a growth rate that is 16-percent higher than that of the general population during this time period.

Currently, about half the expenses for taking care of the elderly infirm — the cost of aides, special diets, facilities and the like — is funded by the government, which means that a two-tier care system has been created; families that can afford to “fill in” the expenses and obtain top quality care for their loved ones do so, while those without resources are forced to make do with lesser care. In 2014, the study said, elderly care cost the economy NIS 15.3 billion, while public funding covered only NIS 8.3 billion of that sum. Altogether, the average household has to fund 45 percent of the cost of care for their loved ones — compared to about 16 percent on average in other OECD countries.

According to the report, “the fragmentation of responsibilities between the different ministries leads to inefficiency and hurts the continuity of care. Most importantly, this leads to suffering among elderly Israelis and their families. Furthermore, the right to institutional care is not universal and is means-tested. This financial structure leaves behind middle-class households who are not poor enough to qualify for financial assistance for long-term care but are not wealthy enough to afford privately funded assisted living facilities.” As a result, “the burden on households is great and growing.”

Plans by the Health Ministry to publicly fund nursing care will help, but may not be sufficient, the report said. Commenting on that plan, Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, one of the report’s authors, said that “the proposal focuses on the medical aspects of long-term care without meeting other needs such as social support. In nearly all other OECD countries, long-term care is managed separately within the welfare system, not in the health-care system. As such, the current proposal of the Ministry of Health does not sufficiently address fragmentation in the Israeli system and the funding sources that are required in order to expand long-term care.”