Jewish Groups Angling for Fixes to Health Care Bill

By Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Published December 30, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Repair the world? Jewish groups would be happy just to fix health care legislation.

For months, Jewish groups have been at the forefront of lobbying the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for health care reform, framing their support within the Talmudic mandate of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The National Jewish Democratic Council even earned a special thank you from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) when the bill finally passed the Senate on Dec. 24.

Now that the House and Senate versions of the legislation are on the verge of converging into a single bill acceptable to both houses of Congress, the Jewish groups that focus on health care lobbying have correspondingly sent out the usual statements praising its advance.

Each of these statements, however, is peppered with a plethora of qualifications – most having to do with the absence of an option for government-run health plans that would compete with the private sector, although there are other aspects that irk Jewish groups, including language on abortions and pricing for seniors.

The statement from the Reform movement’s Religion Action Center was typical of the Jewish responses.

“The time is long past due to repair our broken system that leaves over 47 million people uninsured and millions more underinsured each year,” it begins. “We commend our nation’s senators who have been working tirelessly to bring us to this historic moment.”

Then comes the “while”: “While we are pleased to see a commitment to increased access to health insurance, we remain disappointed with key pieces of the legislation. The bill lacks a government-run public insurance option, which would control costs to further improve affordability and accessibility of care. We are also concerned about severe limitations to women’s access to reproductive health services.”

Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy for B’nai B’rith International, said health care reform advocates hoped to salvage some elements of the public option in the final version of the bill, once it emerges from a conference of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“The important thing is to make sure there’s a mechanism to ensure competition,” she said, even if such an option is not government run; one possibility is the creation of nonprofit cooperatives. Health care reform advocates want a public option to crack insurance monopolies and duopolies that prevail in many states.

Like many other health care reform advocates, the Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella body for federations, focused on urging Congress to preserve the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, a voluntary insurance buy-in that covers long-term care for the elderly and disabled; both Senate and House bills include versions of the CLASS Act.

“This is the largest step forward in long-term care reform since the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid program nearly 45 years ago,” said William Daroff, the federation umbrella’s Washington director. “We believe the CLASS Act would create a fiscally responsible program that will strengthen our ability to deliver vital services to those most in need of them in our community.”

Critics contend that the proposed insurance plan is not self-sustainable and will require massive taxpayer funding.

“The real danger comes after 10 years, when the long-term care program will increase deficits and create even greater pressure for government rationing of medical care,” Scott Harrington, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School, wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal.

Jewish groups, representing one of the most rapidly aging demographics in the United States, also want to see aging removed as an insurance pricing factor, just as the legislation does with pre-existing conditions. They also want to remove the “doughnut hole” from Medicare, the government-run insurance program for Americans over 65. Currently, medicines are subsidized up until $3,000; recipients must then cover a “hole” of about $3,600 until they are again eligible for government subsidies.

For some groups, a critical issue is abortion. Both versions of the bill would introduce bureaucratic restrictions that abortion rights advocates believe eventually could end any government funding for insurers who provide abortions. The House version bans insurers from paying for abortions for clients eligible for any public funding; the Senate bill introduces a process for paying for abortion insurance that critics say is cumbersome and could lead to insurers simply not offering the coverage.

“On the one hand this should be a great moment,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women. “On the other, the extension of coverage to many people comes on the back of women’s access to reproductive rights.”

The intense, heated and often personal nature of the debate did not leave the Jewish community unscathed.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who had backed versions of the public option in the past, withdrew his support recently, saying he no longer believed the government could afford them.

That led to at least two petitions from American Jews urging Lieberman, the best-known Orthodox Jewish lawmaker, not to turn his back on the helpless.

“In our eyes, this is not the behavior of an ‘observant’ Jew,” said one petition, organized by Philadelphia’s Shalom Center and signed by 2,000 people, including 126 Jewish clergy. “’Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice justice shall you seek,’ is among the Torah’s most important commandments. And in pursuit of justice, no autonomous Jewish community has ever allowed the poor to go without healing.”

That in turn led to a blast from Agudath Israel of America, which said that impugning belief was out of place in the public square.

“People should not appropriate the mantle of Judaism to promote their own personal or political convictions,” said Rabbi David Zweibel, the executive vice president of the organization, which is fervently Orthodox. “The Torah has much to say about caring for the sick. But turning it into a tool to promote a particular provision of a health care plan – or into a bat with which to pummel an outstanding public servant who happens to think that provision is objectionable – dishonors the Torah.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.