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A Jewish case for health reform

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Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee adopted a long-overdue health insurance reform bill, the America’s Healthy Future Act. It was a watershed vote that brings the United States closer to accessible, affordable, universal health care, but it was also only one step on the winding and still uncertain legislative path to the Oval Office and the president’s signature on a final reform package. For the sake of our democracy and the well-being of our country and its citizens, the American Jewish community cannot stand on the sidelines of this debate.

Why should this issue matter to us? As Jews, we are taught to care for justice — and a system that leaves millions uninsured and millions more underinsured is far from just. Our tradition teaches that an individual human life is of infinite value, and yet one American dies every 12 minutes — 45,000 each year — because of lack of health insurance and restricted access to the care they need. Maimonides, a revered Jewish scholar, listed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a moral city had to offer to its residents (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot IV: 23), and yet in the United States, more than 900,000 people are projected to endure medical bankruptcy this year because they are burdened by the cost of care.

These teachings of our tradition convey enduring values that speak across the centuries to us today. Millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans in need of basic health care are forced to go to emergency rooms instead of doctors’ offices or clinics, and health-care costs are skyrocketing at alarming rates, threatening the financial well-being of families and the long-term stability of our nation’s economy. In the face of this crisis, a remarkable assembly of doctors, hospitals, labor unions, businesses, insurance companies, drug companies, members of Congress, administration officials and people of faith have come together, working as one to bring about the fundamental and comprehensive health insurance reform our country so desperately needs.

Some ask whether we can we afford the repairs that reformers seek. The more pertinent question is whether we can afford to maintain our broken system. If we remain on the path we’ve been following, 10 years from now health-care spending is expected to reach 20 percent of GDP. Even as the wealthiest nation on earth, we cannot afford that kind of burden, and we should not place it upon our children and grandchildren. This means not only bankruptcy for millions of us; it means bankruptcy for the nation.

The different health insurance reform bills working their way through the House and Senate have brought us closer to addressing these many problems than we have been in decades. The bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Oct. 13 passed after months of negotiations and ultimately with the support of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. America’s Healthy Future Act requires most Americans to buy insurance coverage and offers a health-care “exchange” designed to spur competition and reduce costs. Unfortunately, it fails to include a “public option,” which would allow a government-run insurance plan to compete with the private market. In August, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, which requires all Americans to have insurance individually or through an employer, helps low-income individuals afford coverage, and includes a public option. These bills will now have to be combined with other proposals, including that of the Senate HELP Committee, and must ultimately be negotiated into a package to be approved by a majority of members of Congress and agreed to by the White House.

Jewish tradition teaches that providing health care is not just an obligation for the doctor, but for the community as a whole. So too, passing health insurance reform is not just an obligation for members of Congress. It is the responsibility of each of us to demand reform that is comprehensive in the services it covers, expands insurance to the millions of Americans currently lacking coverage, protects low-income and vulnerable populations, promises quality affordable care, and rests on a financially sustainable foundation.

There are thousands of minute details to be considered, and hundreds of reasons that any bill that emerges will be imperfect. But there are, at a minimum, 90 million reasons why reform is essential. Ninety million — the number of Americans who went without insurance at some point last year. In the coming weeks, Congress has the opportunity to pass strong, comprehensive health-care reform that offers expanded coverage, protects the vulnerable among us, and provides affordable high-quality care. This is the time. This is the moment when we need to come together to enact real health reform that guarantees access to quality affordable health coverage to all.

Mark J. Pelavin is the associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

jim kelly posted 26 Oct 2009 at 06:59 PM

here is a story - unlike most about health care - that really comes from compassion and the faith that we CAN do this, and SHOULD do this.  LET’S do this and improve on it over the coming years.  My grandparents were jews that just in the nick of time escaped nazi germany, my grandmother (oma) told me a story about how a black woman would share her lunch with her because she had nothing to eat.  We are all in this together, it is time to care about our fellow man MORE.

Julian Lieb posted 26 Oct 2009 at 07:15 PM

Innovation that radically improves the quality of care, thus reducng utilization, is the only solution. One such innovation: Lieb,J.“Defeating cancer with antidepressants.“ecancermedicalscience DOI.10.3332/eCMS.2008.88. Such innovations, however, would seem to have legions of foes, and few friends.

Gordon posted 26 Oct 2009 at 07:24 PM

Obviously, someone hasn’t done the math.
Total U.S. government spending = 3 trillion.
Total U.S. medical spending = 2 trillion.
Therefore, in order for U.S. government to provide health care to everyone, it must absorb an industry almost as big as the entire U.S. government itself.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, good intentions will require the government to DOUBLE or possibly TRIPLE (,due to the government’s LEGENDARY inefficiency,) taxes.

Nor has someone done their homework.
Justice and compassion have no basis nor place in reform judaism. Reform judaism is about personal choice rather than groupthink. Justice, which is reliant upon a group consensus of morality, runs completely contrary to notions of personal choice. It is the antithesis of reform judaism.

WALTER d'uLL posted 26 Oct 2009 at 07:37 PM


WALTER d'uLL posted 26 Oct 2009 at 07:44 PM

1:24 comment reflects the totally intelligent way of looking at the plan. (please restore, flagged by mistake) 3 trillion, 2 trillion.

Dr Gary Marder posted 28 Oct 2009 at 07:39 AM

As a practicing Physician and Orthodox jew,I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Thau.Too many liberal philosophical jews have hurt the conservative ,industriuos and hard working jew whose philosophy of G-d helps those who help themselves is otherwise said in vain.Doctors can no longer work for peanuts and unappreciative patients .Patients who only care that they recieve the best care at the expense of the sweat and frustration of Physicians who must deal with HMO’s ,lawyers and unappreciative patients that ALL have cell phones but can’t or won’t pay their $5 copay.

Add to the above Doctors who risk their lives with AIDS patients ,hepatitis patients and the list goes on and on.As Hillel said"If I am not for myself who will be for me ”

Cowdogs posted 28 Oct 2009 at 08:48 PM

Jews also teach intelligence and history.  Look around to other countries that have nationalized health care and enslaved providers to see the miserable failures.

Wake up and reject this crap.

nicolas w garcia posted 28 Oct 2009 at 09:10 PM

I grew up in a military family. We all had free health care from the base commander to the lowest ranking airman.  When we needed to see the doctor my mother or father drove us to sick bay and we were seen within minutes of arrival. We all had this and every family is better off because of it. It goes on today with my mother age 75 still able to see her base doctor or off base diabetes doctor. I know what it is like to live under this system where all in a community have health care and it is far better than what I know today as an airline pilot. The care was more efficient and equal to our community. The amazing thing was how low my fathers was. He took home about $350 per month in the early 60s yet we never thought of medical bankruptcy. If we had a major illness as some of our friends had, it was cared for.
My father died in a VA hospital in Tucson, Arizona in 1997. He died in recovery after a quadruple bypass after a heart attack. His last letter was to thank his Air Force medical staff on such a fine job for caring for him.  We loved this system and if it is anything like the Obama remake of our health coverage, I am for it.  And one day in the future we will look back at this as we did public education and realize we did a good thing but can always do better.

Cowdogs posted 28 Oct 2009 at 09:22 PM

Growing up in a military family must have been an honor.  However, someone along the line made a decision to “enter you” into the military life.  The operative term is “made a decision”, which imparts choice.  That which is being discussed involves no choice by the people who will be subjugated by it.

Again, look around to countries that, by political force, have imposed this upon their citizens.  Not pretty.

Robert Lahasky posted 31 Oct 2009 at 04:16 AM

As a Jewish Physician, I also agree that the current health care system would benefit from significant reform.  Unfortunately, the reforms offered by the current administration and supported by this article are NOT what we need.  They do not lower health care costs, increase access to care or improve the quality of health care that millions of Americans receive.  The current bills in Congress are not about improving care - but rather are simply an attempt to expand government control over the economy and over your life. 

Health care costs can and should be lowered by adopting tort reform (something the Democratic leaders in Congress refuse because it is not supported by the trial lawyers), by allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines to expand the risk pool, by allowing small companies to band together to buy insurance and by altering the “pre-existing” clause in insurance contracts.  Unfortunately, these simple measures don’t allow anyone to ‘control’ the system, so they are not supported by the Administration!

Isn’t it time that we, as Jews concerned about doing what is right for ourselves and for our fellow human beings, start examining the facts.  Mr. Pelavin has my respect.  He does excellent work following his heart at the Religion Action Center, but he is dead wrong on this topic.  His “facts” are in error (like 45,000 people die each year from lack of health insurance).  No one gets turned away from an ER if they require care, regardless of ability to pay.  If we as Jews want to be serious players in this fight, we must stop blindly supporting one political party and start evaluating all the information so we can make intelligent decisions for ourselves and our children. Only then can we truely help to “repair the world.”

lucy posted 15 Nov 2009 at 06:15 PM

why is passover important to jewish people?


Tzitz, tefillin, and the halachic process

Recent weeks have seen much discussion about the permissibility of women wearing tefillin.

Although I do not question the sincerity of the parties involved, and maintain high regard for the individuals involved, I see this as an opportunity to reflect on the unique mitzvah of tefillin and on maintaining the integrity of the halachic process. In addition to the specific halachic question involved, this controversy also raises the broader question of how halachah functions, and I would like to provide some perspective on both of these issues.



Ask the right questions

With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millenials, the question “Who is a Jew?” is rather passé.

Forget the halachic dimensions to this endlessly debatable topic. Forget all the moralizing arguments over the issue. Forget the demographically induced paranoia, the post-Holocaust hand-wringing, the Israeli legal maneuvering (not to mention the pandering that comes with it), and the denominational infighting. And — for heaven’s sake! — forget the Pew study.

The fact is that “Who is a Jew?” is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance — to regain it, really — the question we must ask today is “Why be Jewish?”



We need to ask new questions

I have survey fatigue.

It seems that every other year a new survey about the Jewish population is published. When it is, we have the inevitable hand-wringing from many corners of the Jewish world about the statistics and trends present in the survey. Indeed, the last Pew Study on the American Jewish Population, which was released last fall, has caused the usual spike in anxiety.

What is interesting about this particular Pew survey, though, is that is can be read in two completely different ways, one positive and one negative. More ink has been spilled on the seemingly negative statistics that came out of the survey. Twenty-two percent of Jews identify as cultural Jews, or as the survey calls them, “Jews of no religion.” These Jews are more likely to intermarry and move away from the Jewish community entirely. Two thirds of the Jews of no religion are not raising their children as Jews. Intermarriage rates also are rising; the study says that six in 10 Jews who have gotten married since 2000 have married a non-Jew. Observance levels across the board are also declining; when compared to the 2000 National Jewish Population Study, slightly fewer Jews are attending Passover seders and observing Yom Kippur. And when people change denominations there is a trend toward becoming less observant — or more liberal. Reform Judaism is now being the largest Jewish denomination, and people leave Reform to become “Jews of no religion.”




Passover reflections

Freedom is a tricky entity.

It can open avenues of positive imagination and creativity because a free people’s potential belongs ultimately to them and need not answer to a master who may limit that potential.

This is why the Haggadah must open with questions. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that if a person celebrates Pesach alone, he must ask himself the questions that lead into the story of the Exodus. The right to question, the ability to challenge authority, is the sign that a person ultimately is free. As long as an authority can say, “Keep that unacceptable idea to yourself,” you are not free. Therefore our Festival of Freedom must start with questions, which are always in some way subversive.



Why be Jewish? I’ll answer the question myself

In March I wrote in the Jewish Standard about the challenges posed to the organized Jewish community by my generation, the much- (if not, over-) discussed Millennials (“So, really, why be Jewish?”).

We need to refocus ourselves, I said, by turning away from questions like “Who is a Jew?” The key Jewish question of our time is this: Why be Jewish? “With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millennials, the question, ‘Who is a Jew?’ is rather passé,” I wrote. “The fact is that ‘Who is a Jew?’ is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance—to regain it, really—the question we must ask today is ‘Why be Jewish?’”



Hudson County is welcome to the federation

I read Joshua Einstein’s op-ed piece in last week’s Jewish Standard with great interest (“Hudson County needs a federation”).

He’s made a great case for creating a formal connection between Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Hudson County Jewish community. His argument makes sense. Northern Hudson County has been in our coverage area for many years, so we already have connections there. We now provide services to southern Hudson, including those services Einstein mentions, and more. So it all seems like a natural fit.


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