(This update is cross-posted from “Sacred and Insane,” my blog about immigrating to Jerusalem as a secular Jew. To read the original post, please click here, or follow me on Twitter to stay completely updated with my journey here in Israel).
Shockingly â€” and violating everything my father ever told me about socialized healthcare â€” I was able to get a gynecologist appointment on Tuesday after finding one local to me from a quick Google search for “gynecologist near me,” only two days after I called to schedule one. And it wasn’t even an emergency.
Since he always told me that people have to wait months for care in a socialized medicine, I figured I ought to make my appointment way in advance â€” you know, at least a month and a half before any medication would run out.
The facilities, however, didn’t necessarily match the quickness. The Jerusalem Medical Center, located on 9 Diskin St. in the ultra-pricey Rehavia neighborhood, was teeming with little children and senior citizens, and the furniture was all rather old and grimy. Flies seem to be regular patients at the office.
To my horror â€” and anyone who knows me will cringe on my behalf when reading this â€” the gynecology wing (that’s an exaggeration, as it was just one room really) was located right next to the head-lice treatment center.
I would for sure be scrubbing myself down to the bone as soon as get home, I thought, while sitting in the waiting room. My head was itching thinking about that haven across the corridor. Couldn’t they have placed it somewhere else? You know, at least a few miles away?
A bit like a factory, patients walked in and out of the tiny gynecology waiting room to see the one doctor there that day, the representative for Maccabi insurance holders. After waiting only about 20 minutes â€” that’s pretty good even compared to American standards â€” it was my turn. And as a pregnant haredi woman and peyot-clad husband exited with their double-decker stroller, I walked in.
I saw down with quite an intelligent American doctor, whom of course I had researched thoroughly beforehand. He got his undergraduate degree at Stony Brook University (also my parents’ undergraduate alma mater), and then had gone on to study medicine at New York University, one of the best medical school programs in the United States.
Doctors are always friendlier to me when I mention my parents’ professions. And they actually speak to me like I’m someone familiar with medicine, rather than a clueless writer.
My only slight concern was the black velvet kipa and beard â€” albeit close shaven â€” that appeared in the photo alongside his online resume. You know, because I thought it was slightly awkward to discuss birth control pills with an Orthodox physician, but then I remembered that’s exactly what he is â€” a physician. Though I do admit I was mildly shocked when I heard him say the word “intercourse.”
But within seconds, after I presented him with detailed drug information about my somewhat obscure American birth control, he found an Israeli counterpart with the exact same hormones.
The only catch is that the Israeli version, called Feminet, is a monophasic regimen instead of a triphasic regimen like my old set. Unlike triphasic pills, which have different hormone levels every week to mimic a “real” menstrual cycle, the monophasic versions do not change throughout the cycle. He promised me, however, that this will have no negative effect on my system.
Actually, this is an important piece of information for female immigrants to Israel to take note of â€” in Israel, according to my doctor, triphasic birth control pills no longer even exist. They were phased out long ago because Israeli doctors didn’t see the need to mimic the real menstrual cycle when all cycles under birth control are actually fake anyway.
Similarly, all the packs have 21 pills, not 28, another American addition that the doctor said was not necessary to Israelis, whom he informed me are intelligent enough to know how to count 7 days between packages.
As usual, the Israelis refuse to deal with the useless yet comforting things that we Americans so thoroughly enjoy. In fact, the doctor even recommended that I feel free to go right from one packet to another whenever I want â€” something American gynecologists seem to rarely recommend.
The co-pay there was NIS 7 ($2), and each pack, aside from the two free ones the doctor gave me, cost NIS 30 ($8), four times less than my prescriptions in the United States, also with insurance.
But by the way…to my disappointment and desire to prove my father’s view on socialist medicine wrong, the doctor assured me my dad was actually right. It was fluke, he said, that I had gotten that appointment in a mere two days, as only minutes before I called he had added that entire day to his schedule, to make up for the days he had lost during the September holidays.
Don’t worry though, he assured me. Normally, you’ll get to wait that month.
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On one of my trips to Israel, I received a second opinion from a leading Israeli doctor about a very complex issue that might have led to extremely challenging (for the patient) surgery. The first opinion was given to me by one of the leading US surgeons in the same field. The problem was that it would take years to learn who was right and I had to gamble on one or the other. For some reason, I trusted the Israeli surgeon more. After a couple of years, he was proven completely right and the US physician turned out to have been wrong. By the way, the two surgeons know each other and while the Israeli surgeon expressed respect for his US counterpart, the American disrespected the state of the field in Israel. Too bad for his patients, he could learn a thing or two.
I guess luckily, I have yet to see what happens here during an emergency/major illness situation. Hopefully I won’t have to find that out!
Again: Israel does NOT have SOCIALIZED medicine.
Back in the bad old days of socialist Israel, there was a virtual monopoly on healthcare, with a handful of politically-affiliated health plans and government price and wage controls.
After suffering the same awful medical care as most other socialized systems, Israel liberalized its medical care.
Maccabi, Leumit, et al. are modern HMOs that descended from the liberalization of the old, socialized programs.
We now have a hybrid system in which the government underwrites a basket of basic services in a semi-regulated market.
That is why there was a phone bank that could help you locate a doctor, and why you could choose the doctor you wanted to see.
None of which would have happened in a truly socialized system.