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Health Bill Advances Despite Israeli Government Opposition

February 24, 1994

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A health insurance bill passed its first legislative hurdle Wednesday despite opposition by the government, which wants it changed to favor a union connected to the governing Labor Party.

The bill, identical to a government proposal revoked last month at the behest of the party, passed the first of three required readings by a 76-0 vote through the combined support of the right-wing opposition and rebels from the Labor-led coalition.

Supporters of the Labor position boycotted the vote when it became apparent they were in the minority.

Former Health Minister Haim Ramon, a leading Labor reformist who authored the bill, accused the government of ″unprecedented dirty tricks″ in efforts to scuttle it.

The government submitted the bill in January. But in a twist that has become a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Labor Party congress then asked the government to change the bill to guarantee some health tax revenue is funneled to the Histadrut union affiliated with the party.

When the government withdrew the bill, the popular Ramon resigned as health minister and the opposition accused Rabin of betraying voters by giving in to vested interests in his party.

The plan, like one being drawn up by the Clinton administration, aims to guarantee all citizens basic medical services regardless of employment status, making health care more costly for the young and healthy and cheaper for sick and elderly people. It would impose on Israelis a health tax of about 4.8 percent of their income.

Most people already pay a similar amount to various health plans. But current plans are not required to accept all applicants, leaving about 350,000 uninsured.

The proposal would distribute funding among the health plans, officials say.

Opposition parties and coalition rebels together resubmitted the initial bill, which passed its first reading Wednesday.

A separate government-sponsored bill incorporating the changes demanded by the party is to come to a vote next week.

Coalition whip Eli Dayan said any Labor members who oppose that bill will be expelled from the party.

Update hourly