Many senior benefits provided both by the Israeli government and NGOs are truly hidden treasures: buried so deep that many people never discover or take advantage of them.

After years as treasure hunters, helping seniors in Israel unearth and benefit from their rights, we’d like to share some of these gems with you.

Kupot Cholim and Medical Care

For seniors, many of whom are dealing with multiple health issues on a daily basis, health care is a constant source of thought and concern. For seniors hailing from the United States, where private insurance companies have traditionally employed a practice of excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions, health insurance is a stressful, agitating topic.

Fortunately, any Oleh who arrives in Israel with an aliyah visa (i.e., approved by the Jewish Agency) is eligible immediately for health insurance through Bituach Leumi, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions. The Oleh can choose to become a member of one of the four health plans (Kupot Cholim) of his or her choice, and for retirees, the first year is free.

Seniors are also entitled to sign up for the supplemental coverage (effective immediately) offered by the Kupah of their choice, regardless of pre-existing conditions, as long as they opt in within 90 days of their arrival.

So… everybody’s covered. From the moment they arrive.

When you get down to the nitty-gritty of “what exactly is covered and what is not,” health insurance often brings a few surprises with it – both pleasant and unpleasant. Here are some of the pleasant ones – and what action needs to be taken to make sure they happen.

1. If your parent is homebound, all of the Kupot will provide in-home medical services, including physicians, nurses, and technicians (for example, to take blood and urine samples). Requests for this service is coordinated via your parents’ family physician at the Kupah. If your parent is coming on aliyah, it’s advisable to establish care with an (English speaking) family physician as soon as possible upon arrival.

2. If your parent has been discharged from the hospital following surgery or rehab, but isn’t quite ready to return home, his or her supplemental Kupah plan provides reimbursement for up to 80% of the cost of a hotel stay. Many of Israel’s hospitals have adjoining hotels (like Ein Kerem Hotel, attached to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karen, Jerusalem). Reimbursement is determined on a case-by-case basis, so contact the Kupah or the hospital social worker to see what your parent might be entitled to.

3. All Kupot offer financial assistance toward the purchase of hearing aids for hearing impaired people who are 65 and older. Those with supplemental plans may be eligible for additional assistance. Exactly how much is covered varies by Kupah, but in general, here is the process to follow:

a. Get a referral from your family doctor for a hearing test (test must be performed at a recognized facility).
b. Take the results of the hearing test to an ENT and get a referral for a hearing aid.
c. Ask your Kupah for the list of approved hearing aid providers. You will only be able to get reimbursed if you purchase your hearing aid from a company on the list.

4. Holocaust Survivors are automatically exempt from co-payments on medications that appear on the Ministry of Health’s approved list of medications. The senior must be officially recognized as a Holocaust Survivor; recognition is coordinated through the Foundation for Victims of the Holocaust (www.k-shoa.org)

Bituach Leumi and Assistance with Home Care

Most people are aware of the Chok Siyud (Nursing Care Law): any senior who needs assistance with daily living activities is entitled to financial assistance from Bituach Leumi to offset the cost. The amount of assistance awarded depends both on the level of need and the senior’s financial resources.

However, there are some aspects of the Nursing Care Law that most people are NOT aware of. Here are a few that can make a tremendous impact on your parent’s ability to age in place.

5. Nursing Care Law paid “hours of assistance” can be used to pay a caregiver (see below), but they can be used for other things instead. Hours can be translated into product purchasing power and used for day centers, disposable absorbent products (e.g. incontinence briefs) or an emergency alarm button. A list of recognized suppliers which accept Nursing Care Law “hours” as purchasing power is available through the social worker at the Ministry of Social Services (Misrad HaRevacha).

6. If your parent is eligible to receive hours of assistance through the Nursing Care Law, and he or she is a Holocaust survivor, it is possible to receive additional hours of assistance from Bituach Leumi. Most caregiver agencies have the forms available, and will help you apply for extra hours of assistance (it’s beneficial to them to guide you through the process of qualifying for as much assistance as possible – they will be happy to support you!)

7. Following a hospitalization, if a Holocaust survivor does not qualify for Nursing Care Law hours, the Foundation for Victims of the Holocaust will provide them with 50 hours of monthly assistance at home. The hospital social worker or the Kupat Cholim social worker must submit the request to the Foundation on behalf of patient.

Foreign Caregivers

8. In Israel, the cost of a foreign caregiver is government-controlled. A round-the-clock caregiver is much more affordable than the equivalent in the United States. Budget approximately $1500 monthly for a full-time foreign caretaker. Hours allocated by Bituach Leumi under Chok Siyud can be applied toward the cost of a foreign worker, making hiring a foreign worker even more affordable. Irrespective of financial assistance from Bituach Leumi, one must apply for a permit to employ a foreign worker, but if your parent is over the age of 90, the process to obtain a permit is much more lenient: a person over 90 requires only a letter from a geriatrician confirming that he or she has at least four cumulative Activities of Daily Living (ADL) assessment points (a senior under 90 must go through the ADL assessment process at home, and the threshold is higher.)

Other Senior Privileges

9. If your parent is a woman over the age of 62 or a man over the age of 67, make sure you get the Senior Citizen card (Cartis Ezrach Vatik)! Cardholders are entitled to a 50% discount on public transportation and other discounts on cultural events, theaters, museums and national parks. Cardholders are also entitled to discounts on medications and are exempt from television tax.

A Senior Citizen card should be mailed to an eligible person’s home when he or she reaches the legal age of retirement. If it hasn’t been received, you can request the card by emailing ezrach.vatik@pmo.gov.il, by faxing 02-654-7049 or by contacting your local Department of Services to the Elderly (Sherut LeMa’an HaZaken).

10. If your parent receives Social Security payments from the US government, you can notify the US Social Security Administration that they have moved abroad and request to have those payments deposited directly into your parent’s Israeli bank account.

Social Security payments will not be taxed by the Israeli government.

Managing Israeli bureaucracy to secure entitlements can be all-consuming. When you’re feeling emotionally and physically drained, however, it’s hard to be available.

Available for listening and for sharing.
Available for building your relationship.
Available for creating beautiful memories for your parent, your family – and yourself.

We hope that taking advantage of these “hidden treasures” of senior rights and benefits will give you and your parent the ability to be available to enjoy the real treasures of life together in Israel.