Health care in Israel vs. the United States: A Dive into the Alternative

Americans pay more for health care and get less than in other countries. Let’s dive into the alternatives: what can we learn from the Israeli healthcare system?

Health care in Israel vs. the United States: A Dive into the Alternative

“Yes, of course healthcare in the U.S. has to change. But what’s the alternative?” Well, we’re glad you’ve asked! Many Americas are dissatisfied with the contemporary healthcare system and believe they deserve more. Many agree that it’s confusing, expensive, and inaccessible. At the same time, many are skeptical about finding an alternative or say they don’t know enough to form an opinion. 

But the truth is that while change is hard, it is sometimes inevitable. From our neighbors to the north to Scandinavia and parts of Asia, there are actually plenty of healthcare systems we can learn from. In this blog post, we decided to focus on Israel, mainly because Antidote Health has an office in Tel Aviv and plenty of behind-the-scenes staff who can vouch for the content of this blog post from personal experience. 

We are not lobbying to implement the Israeli healthcare system – nor do we think we should or that it’s possible. Instead, we want to explore with you some of the bigger differences between health care in Israel and the U.S., and dive into the possibilities.

Facts and stats about American vs. Israeli health care

The question “what makes a healthcare system good or successful?” is comprised of many different factors and is somewhat open for debate. We decided to compare three key and relatively easily measurable stats. All stats are taken from and are based on the latest United Nations Population Division estimates and World Bank data. 

Life expectancy:

In life expectancy – or, the number or years a person is expected to live – Israel is ranked 12th in the world, with 82.0 years for males and 84.9 years for females. (You’re welcome to insert a dad joke about why females live longer than males at your own expense). The U.S. is ranked 46th, with 76.61 years for males and 81.65 for females. On average, Israelis are expected to live about 4 years longer than their fellow Americans. 

Child mortality (deaths of children under 5):

After years of decline, the rate of deaths of children under 5 in the U.S. plateaued, and now stands at 7 deaths per 1,000 live births. In Israel, the number is 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 4.25 ten years ago. 

Investment in healthcare:

In 2019, the most recent comparable year, national health expenditure in the U.S. accounted for 16.77% of gross domestic product (GDP). In the meanwhile, Israel spends only 7.46% of its GDP on its public healthcare system.

A chart depicting the differences between Israeli and American health care showing GDP and life expectancy between the two countries.

A wave of success 

COVID-19 has really turned the spotlight on Israel. The speedy and effective manner in which Israel rolled out the first dose of vaccinations put it way ahead of the curve at the start of the pandemic, and allowed Israelis to resume their pre-pandemic life with a relatively low death rate. Although not free of criticism, the Israeli program was celebrated for its unparalleled early success; a success that was attributed to a combination of different factors, including Israel’s relatively small and young population, the country’s centralized government structure, and, of course, its effective healthcare infrastructure. In 2021, a report showed that even with the increase in public medical expenses during the pandemic, which included vaccines and COVID tests, Israeli health expenditure accounted for 8.1% of GDP, still significantly lower than the U.S.

What makes the Israeli healthcare system what it is?

There are many differences between Israeli and American health care, and not all of them stem from the system itself. Here are things that do:

  • Universal Healthcare: Let’s start this list with the elephant in the room. Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two systems is the concept of universal healthcare. All Israeli residents are medically insured by law (implemented in 1994). Israelis have the right to choose between four Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). These nonprofit organizations provide all their members with an array of health services, including primary, specialty, maternity, and mental health care, as well as prescribing medicine, for free or at a lowered rate.
  • Funding: Government funding (namely, national income tax) and a progressive health tax cover 64% of the healthcare expenses in Israel. 34% of funding comes from private households. The remaining 2% comes from donations. As previously mentioned, HMOs must provide their members with a variety of services for free or at a low cost. While these services are uniform and regulated by the government, HMOs can offer additional services to increase their income. In the U.S., the percentage of government spending on health per capita is higher than in any other comparable country (including Israel), yet American individuals still pay roughly double what residents of other countries pay.
  • There are no deductibles: If you want to have a good time, try explaining to Israelis the concept of deductibles and enjoy the confusion on their faces. “Yes, of course I’m covered by insurance, but it doesn’t go into effect until I’ve spent an agreed-upon-yet-arbitrary amount out-of-pocket fees in a calendar year!” Israelis are insured from their first to their last breath.
  • The Ministry of Health’s role: The Israeli Ministry of Health serves as a regulator, insurer, and even a health care provider in some cases. Alongside the Ministry of Finance, it builds the budget, sets hospital rates, and decides what services are subsidized.

The grass is only partly greener 

The Israeli version of universal healthcare means that people aren’t dependent on their employer for their well-being, but it also means that the system is focused on providing for as many people with as few funds as possible (which may leave people with rare conditions without an affordable local solution). The centralized role of the Ministry of Health and the existence of HMOs were crucial to the success of Israel’s vaccine rollout programs, but they restrict patients’ ability to choose their clinician. The lack of deductibles means that people are always covered, but… well, here there is no “but” … the concept of a deductible is pretty odd.

The point of this post isn’t to convince you that the Israeli healthcare system – or any other healthcare system for that matter – is perfect. We aren’t even saying that the U.S. is fully comparable to a country roughly the size of New Jersey. All we want is for you to know that alternatives exist. You can pay less and get more. You can get what you deserve.

Perhaps the greatest difference between both healthcare systems is that the Israeli system views health as a human right and not a commodity. You still pay for it, of course, but it’s not seen as a traded good the same way it is here. That mindset is what led us to establish Antidote and our movement. That view led to our promise to leave no one behind. 

At Antidote, we offer accessible and affordable health care, regardless of your health condition or state of insurance. Forget about deductibles, hidden fees, and taxing bureaucracy. You don’t even need insurance. Visit with a clinician from the comfort of your home, anytime, day or night. Join us as we revolutionize health care in the U.S., and experience health care that works for you.

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