Jewish Federations Scramble To Save Funding as Obamacare Goes Into Effect

$7.5B Health Programs at Stake for Agencies

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 26, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
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During the run-up to the health care law’s passage, the Jewish federation system chose to sit out the fierce debate that accompanied its passage during President Obama’s first term. The silence reflected conflicting pressures on a system. It is a system that, on one hand, provides health care needs to hundreds of thousands — mainly the elderly and mentally ill — in the Jewish community and elsewhere; but, on the other hand, it is dependent on donations from wealthy business owners, many of whom opposed the proposed law. As a result, the federation leadership during this period conveyed the message to its activists that health care reform had become “too political,” as one communal activist described it, and therefore should be left alone.

Now, however, following the defeat of legal challenges to the law, federations are seeking a seat at the table in order to influence the law’s practical aspects. “Now that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld and is going to be implemented, we need to understand what it means and how it affects our constituencies,” said Sandy Teplitzky, a federation lay leader from Baltimore who co-chaired JFNA’s recent meeting on the issue.

Some Jewish organizational leaders defended the Jewish community’s inaction during the legislation’s earlier stages.

“On this issue, it was wise to remain active listeners to the dialogue,” Lederman said.

Joining the process at the post-legislative stage does not seem to have cost JFNA any access to the decision making process. The group has, in recent months, been in dialogue with the administration over the law’s implementation. JFNA officials were even invited recently to a White House meeting to discuss ways to engage communal organizations in promoting participation in the plan. A JFNA representative was also included on a special administration commission that will soon begin working on long-term care.

“I think their input would be welcome even though they were not supportive of the plan during the earlier discussion,” said one activist, who was critical of the group’s reluctance to engage earlier.

For each federation and the agencies it supports, the Affordable Care Act, with its thousands of pages of legislation and numerous rules, represents a practical challenge.

One concern is the plan to cut in half extra funding provided for hospitals that serve a disproportionate number of low-income patients, a category that includes many Jewish hospitals. Obamacare is intended to decrease significantly the number of uninsured Americans, thus reducing the number of patients unable to pay their hospital bills. But JFNA and federation activists have argued that the cut in extra funding for these hospitals should come only after the number of uninsured patients is actually decreased, not before.

Another key issue for Jewish health care providers is funding for long-term mental health care, which has not yet been brought to the reimbursement level of other health care services.

“Everything will start rolling out in 2014, and we want the rules to be out by October so people will know what choices they have,” said Julie Kass, a member of the JFNA’s long-term care committee and a lawyer representing health care providers. “You need to get them to write these regulations. Don’t let those final rules just hang there.” Kass urged the community to take action and actively lobby Congress and the administration on this issue.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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