The Israeli health system has shown notable achievement in improving outcomes for all citizens both in absolute and relative terms compared to other developed countries, and also in narrowing the gaps within Israel. However, the disparity in health outcomes, particularly between Jewish and Arab Israelis, is still considerable, and this gap is one of the challenges that the system faces going forward. The Taub Center’s The State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy 2009 provides a detailed examination of Israel’s health system (Dov Chernichovsky, “The Healthcare System”). This article highlights some of the main findings.
Health can be compared along many different dimensions, but one of the most useful measures is life expectancy at birth. This is a very popular overall measure of national health and it is the public health indicator used in the UN Human Development Index.
How does life expectancy in Israel compare to life expectancy in other countries? Three decades ago, in 1980, life expectancies for Israeli Jews, for the U.S., and for OECD countries (commonly considered the group of developed countries) excluding the U.S. were almost identical, at approximately 74 years; life expectancies for Arab Israelis were lower by over two years (see figure).
Since then, the gains in life expectancy for Israelis have far outpaced those of other countries. Life expectancy in the US grew by four years, and those in the rest of the OECD grew by six years. But for Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, the gain was over seven years. Israelis as a whole now have a longer life expectancy than the non-US OECD countries, and even Israeli Arabs have a noticeably longer life expectancy than Americans.
The second figure provides a country-by-country comparison in 2005 of life expectancy among Israeli Jews and Arabs to life expectancy in OECD countries and in neighboring countries in the Middle East. Israeli Jews live longer than the citizens of all but four countries in the world. Despite the substantial increase in life expectancy among Israeli Arabs, and the fact that their life expectancies are already longer than those in the neighboring countries, the U.S. and Denmark, they are still below the OECD average and all other advanced Western countries.
Another very widely used indicator of health outcomes is infant mortality. While life expectancy aggregates information about health outcomes over the entire life cycle, infant mortality focuses on one narrow and acute aspect of health care: the survival of infants during the first year of life. The third figure reflects a similar story with regard to health outcomes: In 1960 infant mortality rates for Israeli Jews, for the US and for the rest of the OECD were nearly identical; the rates for Israeli Arabs were much higher, approximately double. Since then, all countries show substantial declines in infant mortality, from over 25 per 1000 live births to less than 10. But the decline in Israel is greater than that for the US and slightly exceeds that of the rest of the OECD. Israeli Arabs show the greatest decline of all, reaching American infant mortality rates by the middle of this past decade.