Israeli news site Yediot Acharonot published an article against Israel’s national ambulance service Magen David Adom on Tuesday, in which it called into question the legality of the organization’s new billing blitz.
According to the article many Israeli citizens who have used the ambulance service in the past 20 years were surprised to receive a bill for services rendered more than a decade ago. According to the Israeli statute of limitations, outstanding payments dating back more than seven years to a government body, are dismissed. However, Magen David Adom claims that they are still able to charge the service fees and that the statute of limitations does not apply to them.
Many Israelis who received these backdated bills claim that it is the first time that they are being approached for payment in spite of the many years that have passed since the service was rendered. In Israel, as in many other countries, people have to pay for ambulance services such as those provided by Magen David Adom based on specific algorithms that vary depending on the type of emergency and the distance from the hospital. However, should the patient be admitted to the hospital then the person’s HMO generally covers the charges. Hence, if people do not receive a bill, most assume that their health care provider has picked up the charge. In these cases, where patients were not notified by the ambulance service for years, many assumed that the payment was already covered.
The blitz of bills sent by the ambulance organization to former patients is part of MDA’s new collection campaign to close all old outstanding payments. In an effort to do so, MDA has provided a limited time window in which people receiving bills for previous services can pay without incurring extra fines or interest from the years gone by in which they were not notified about the charges.
One 32 year-old received a bill for 570 NIS with a claim that he used an ambulance some 14 years prior. “I have no recollection of the incident and I have never before been notified that this payment is outstanding,” said the individual who is remaining anonymous due to the legalities surrounding the situation. “I changed addresses since then and I updated the Ministry of the Interior. When I called the MDA payment hotline,it was very difficult to get through, I had to leave five messages before I finally got someone, ad when I did, the representative whom I spoke to couldn’t tell me any of the details regarding what the payment was for.”
Another disgruntled citizen told Yediot Acharonot that: “If MDA decided not to contact us about this until now, 12 years later, then why should we bare the responsibility for it?”
The article brought up numerous similar stories, but more than the simple stories of receiving bills was the worry expressed by the recipients that their bank accounts would be frozen due to the lack of payment even when they didn’t know about the charge. It is important to note, that as a government-sponsored organization, MDA has the ability to freeze bank accounts and seize property in lieu of outstanding payments.
Oren Turkiah, who went on record, said that he received a bill for 570 NIS from 2003 and approached a lawyer out of the fear that his bank account would be frozen. “I waited for more than 30 minutes on the MDA hotline for someone to answer They took down my details but never got back to me. This sure is one successful way to collect on debt,” Turkiah said to Yediot.
The requirement to pay outstanding debts has also been applied to Magen David Adom volunteers who’ve used the ambulance services as well. One volunteer, who also requested anonymity, received a bill for an ambulance from 12 years ago and was passed around the hotline answering service waiting for someone who could tell him what the service was. “Eventually, they told me to simply come into the office and figure it out in person.”
According to a instruction passed down by the Attorney General’s office in 2012, it was directed that any government agency who did not begin the collection process within a reasonable time from when the service was given, the directive suggested three years as being reasonable, should no longer be able to collect the fees owing, unless there were outstanding circumstances that justified the lack of the collection process from having taken place in due time.
According to one lawyer interviewed by Yediot, MDA has no justification to begin collection processes in arrears stretching over years if not decades as they are not allowed to wait to begin the collection process or even pause it for elongated periods of time.
Magen David Adom responded to the claims made in the article and said: “We are undertaking an unprecedented collection campaign the likes of which have never been seen before in Israel. The magnitude of the collection process and outstanding unpaid service fees have caused an overload in our collection center’s hotline due to the amount of people calling. We will be reinforcing the hotline answering service and guarantee that we will respond to all of those who contact us. We emphasize that these are cases of administrative collections that we have attempted to collect upon previously in which no response was received from those owing the fees. Therefore, the statute of limitations does not apply and each citizen who has received services from Magen David Adom is required to sort out the payment of the service fee.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)