Jewish groups still angling for health care bill fixes.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
epair the world? Jewish activist
groups would be happy just to fix
health care legislation.
For months, they have been at the fore-
front of lobbying the 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 ver-
sions of the legislation are on the verge
of converging into a single bill, 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 move-
ment's Religious Action Center was typical
of the national Jewish responses to the
pending health care legislation.
"While we are pleased to see a commit-
ment to increased access to health insur-
ance ... the bill lacks a government-run
public insurance option, which would con-
trol costs to further improve affordability
and accessibility of care. We are also con-
cerned 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 sal-
vage 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 competi-
tion:' she said, even if such an option is
not government-run; one possibility is the
creation of nonprofit cooperatives.
Like many other health care reform
advocates, the Jewish Federations of North
America, the umbrella body for federa-
tions, focused on urging Congress to pre-
serve 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.
Critics contend that the proposed insur-
ance plan is not self-sustainable and will
require massive taxpayer funding.
Jewish groups, representing one of the
most rapidly aging demographics, 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 eventu-
ally could end any government funding for
insurers who provide abortions.
"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
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, saying he
no longer believed the government could
afford them. That led to at least two peti-
tions from Jews aimed at Lieberman, the
best-known Orthodox Jewish lawmaker.
"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."
The Orthodox group Agudath Israel of
America responded that impugning belief
was out of place in the public square.
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