Child (illustrative)
Child (illustrative) iStock

Early intervention centers, which provide essential developmental therapies for 40,000 children across Israel, will begin to implement a reform planned under and approved by former Health Minister Yakov Litzman (UTJ).

The reform is expected to significantly impact both the availability and quality of early intervention services.

Currently, a child who is referred for speech, occupational, or physical therapy and does not receive it via the family's health fund within three months is eligible for a 50% refund on private services. The new reform would cancel that, leaving 14,000 children without eligibility for private services.

At the same time, the reform provides the health funds with 80 million shekels to invest in early intervention services, but does not provide benchmarks for meeting these goals or criteria for receiving the funds.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) is expected to decide whether early intervention centers which are not part of the health funds will be funded directly, and what the payment for these services will be. If the services are not properly funded, municipal early intervention centers may begin closing on August 1.

In a meeting of the Knesset's Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee, it was noted that the health funds are not yet prepared to absorb the children currently receiving private therapies, or therapies from municipal early intervention centers.

Keren Rashi, which supports supervised centers and the Forum for Child Development Units, told Israel Hayom that even today, the lines for therapies were very long, especially in the periphery, where there is a lack of medical services. These centers, Keren Rashi said, provide professional services where the options are extremely limited.

"There is great importance, especially for younger children, in quick treatment," Rotem Ezer Eliyahu, director of Keren Rashi's early childhood unit, told Israel Hayom. "These are the most critical years of a child's development. Closing these units will harm children in the periphery in an extreme fashion, as well as harm children from families which struggle financially, and children with complex developmental issues. We believe that every child, in every family, in every location in Israel, deserves to receive quality and accessible developmental services."

Keren Rashi also noted that due to the coronavirus outbreak, many parents have lost their ability to pay for private therapies, even with the 50% refund.

"Children deserve to receive professional medical treatment, including that which is supervised by the Health Ministry. If something dramatic does not happen in the coming days, the only option for tens of thousands of parents in Israel will be to pay an enormous amount for private therapies, and to hope that they will receive quality service, even though it is not supervised by the State."

Though the current law stipulates that children must receive early intervention therapies within three months of receiving a referral, children routinely wait between six and eight months for therapies, due to lack of availability both in the health funds and from private providers.