Op-Ed: A good deed for health care in a weary world


NEW YORK (JTA) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act is far more than a narrow legal decision. It is a decisive affirmation of what is right. Health care surely is right — and a right.

This issue is highly personal, hitting home for me much as it did for tens of millions of Americans lacking adequate health care.

My beloved dad, Roy, endured the challenges of many immigrants carving out a new life. He worked hard and is a devoted American. He rarely displays emotion. Imagine my shock at age 10, sitting at our Long Island kitchen table, as my dad told my mom that we’d lost our health insurance. He had just been laid off from his job as a mechanical engineer. 

Few things are scarier for a family man or woman — for anyone — than having nowhere to go when you get sick. The recent Supreme Court ruling means that millions of people will never again have to endure such fear. As such, it represents a crucial win for Americans — and for America. Millions of middle-class families now will have the security of affordable health coverage, even with pre-existing medical conditions. 

President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts have earned this country’s appreciation for their leadership in attaining justice for all Americans. The president and Congress spoke out clearly on the need for the Affordable Care Act, then passed and signed the landmark legislation. Roberts led the high court in affirming the law’s constitutionality. 

Jewish law and tradition have much to say about taking an active role in guarding one’s health — and the health of our fellow man. Health and life are bedrock Jewish values, to the extent that saving someone (“pikuach nefesh”) supersedes even the sanctity of the Sabbath. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes, “If one has medicine that a sick person needs, it is forbidden to charge more than the appropriate price.” This statement of Jewish law now becomes the spirit of America’s national health policy, and I could not be more proud. 

The Jewish community has long supported a national health-care policy that includes everyone, and traditionally has viewed health care as a communal responsibility. This central Jewish tenet is consistent with a society’s prioritizing of health and safety of everyone in its midst and is demonstrated by the commitment that American Jews have made to supporting hospitals and health services through our communal institutions.

Unfortunately, some of these same institutions, many of them the traditional political voices in American Jewish organizational life, became somewhat muted as health-care legislation was debated nationally. Whether it was due to decisions to focus only on narrowly defined “Jewish interests” or, as we so often hear is the case, because of the political interests of a small group of very wealthy and very conservative donors, it is not possible to say conclusively. What is clear and conclusive is that at a time when the Jewish community needed to speak out in support of the kind of health-care policy that our tradition demands, far too many of us failed to do so.

We at Bend the Arc are proud to stand with the millions of American Jews who did help shepherd this law through and who want their voices to be raised in its support. We believe that moving forward, the law’s affirmation in the Supreme Court should herald a renewed American Jewish commitment to the basic right of health care for all.

Contrarily, what this country surely does not need now is refighting the old fight. Congressional leaders priming to pursue the law’s repeal should reconsider. The House and Senate could better heal this country by working collaboratively across party lines to continue righting the economy and creating jobs.

A favorite film scene relates appropriately to the vote’s denouement. In “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the child protagonist, Charlie, is rewarded for returning the “everlasting gobstopper.” Gene Wilder’s elated Wonka exclaims, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

The Supreme Court ruling was the good deed — the final good deed, I pray — in the extended-play drama that has characterized this country’s health-care debate. My hope is for this ultimate judicial decision to herald a new era. Let us all in the American Jewish community rededicate ourselves to attaining a far more secure future for everyone’s family so that, at long last, society becomes far removed from yesterday’s weary world.

(Alan van Capelle is CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.)


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