WASHINGTON (JTA) — The crisis of health care in America is one that should serve as a call to action for the Jewish community. For more than 47 million Americans, health care is something they simply cannot afford, and this obstacle — just one part of the health-care challenges facing the United States — should serve as a clarion call to guide our leaders in making the right decisions about fixing the health-care system in this country.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and UJC/Jewish Federations of North America have long been proponents of reform that will serve to strengthen our nation’s health-care system. Our advocacy efforts have been propelled by both a moral mandate from our Jewish tradition and our experience providing health-care services to millions of vulnerable people in communities across the United States. When you have served those who are truly in need, you realize how important universal access to health care is and how it must be a part of any plan.
We know there are scores of compelling issues that compete for our legislators’ attention, but as the baby boomer generation grows older and the demand on our nation’s health-care system surges as a result, now is the time for the Jewish community to act upon shared principles in health care.
We believe everything should be discussed, including more controversial ideas such as the federal government-run insurance option, because when you need to reshape something so important and dynamic, all options must be put in play. It is a historic moment, and we believe the community should play a leading role in these endeavors. This opportunity may not be available to us for years — make that decades — to come.
Our partnership on this issue underscores the fact that health reform represents an opportunity to make common-sense improvements that will enhance the ability of social service providers to assist vulnerable populations and simultaneously ensure that the Jewish obligation to “pursue justice” is manifested in public policy outcomes that promote health care for all. “For all” means eliminating disparities in health-care coverage based on race, ethnicity, class or gender.
Real reform can happen by year’s end. President Obama’s recently released budget included approximately $600 billion that over the course of a decade would help pay for the health-care overhaul. The total cost of the expansion is projected at more than $1 trillion. The president has welcomed input and asked that every idea be considered. In that spirit, we put forth our core principles:
* People should have universal access to health services, so that every individual and family can have access to a doctor regardless of income or other barriers.
* The system should provide care for the most vulnerable, and we should expand and strengthen Medicaid, which is vital in serving the most vulnerable among us. There is a need for incorporating long-term services and supports, particularly given that Jewish Americans are the fastest aging minority in North America, and we will work toward a more comprehensive continuum of care that will strive for more choice and affordability.
* The system should have built-in equity and aim to end unfair insurance practices that have kept millions of Americans from obtaining the medical care they have desperately needed.
In sum, we assert that not only does there need to be comprehensive care, but also preventative care within the new American health system. It is time that the United States switches from an illness-based model to one that is centered on wellness from generation to generation.
Health-care reform will have far-reaching effects both on Jewish social-service providers and on our community relations efforts. Many Jewish Americans are among the ranks of the uninsured, and our network of Jewish social-service providers relies on a strong health-care safety net to serve vulnerable Jewish populations.
We need to work productively for a stronger health-care system in America. Right now we are pushing Congress to stop harmful cuts to Medicare and assist states in fiscal crisis, so they will not consider weakening Medicaid to cover their own state budgetary shortfalls.
This is the time to lead and our communities need to be involved. We stand at the ready to make these objectives a reality for all Americans in need of a strong health-care continuum.
(William C. Daroff is vice president for public policy and director of UJC/Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office. Hadar Susskind is vice president and Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.)