In today’s society we must ask which forces are preventing Americans from achieving a sense of security and confidence in which to pursue work and raise families, and what kinds of investments we can make to ensure that every citizen can have such an environment in the future. In America, embracing the moral imperative of universally accessible healthcare is among the many things that we can do in order to bring this kind of justice to society.
Health care has always been a Jewish value. Just look at the State of Israel. The Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin 17b, asserts that a Torah scholar should not live in a community unless it has available medical care. In addition, in Gittin 61a the rabbis declare, “We support the non-Jewish poor along with the poor of Israel, and visit the non-Jewish sick along with the sick of Israel, and bury the non-Jewish poor along with the dead of Israel, for the sake of peace.” Medical attention is not just something we consider as essential in order to live our own lives in comfort; it is something we assert must be accessible to all.
This quintessential Jewish value finds modern expression in the immediate need to provide health care to all Americans, including the 10 million Americans currently unemployed, the 50 million who did not have coverage prior to the Affordable Care Act, and the 129 million with preexisting conditions. Under the ACA, people will not have to worry about having their health insurance cut off once they reach an annual or lifetime limit on benefits; women will not be charged higher premiums because of their gender; and preventive health care services including mammograms, birth control, and immunization will be covered at no additional cost to the consumer. Most importantly, the insurance marketplace allows every American to choose the plan and price range that best works for them.
During the open enrollment period, more than 4 million people have already enrolled in private health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces, and more were deemed eligible to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. More than 80 percent of people enrolled in private health care plans through the marketplace qualified for financial assistance to help them afford quality coverage. The uninsured rate continues to decrease, with more expected gains in the last few weeks of open enrollment.. It is certainly true that the rollout of the ACA had its hiccups. Yet, even as we acknowledge that the law’s imperfections, we affirm that its basic promise of health care for all remains a necessity.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach reminds us of what is at stake in the fight for universal coverage when he says, “In relation to the obligation to pay the costs of saving the life of a sick person who is in danger of dying … one is obligated to do everything to save him, and if not, one transgresses the negative commandment, ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.’” Although the ACA has its critics, neither we nor our government is allowed to abdicate the responsibility that it represents.
Last month, Jewish groups across the country joined together to affirm this sacred obligation by holding the Jewish Community Day of Action for Health Care Coverage. Jewish groups reached out using social media, conversations and special events to advocate education about health care and enrollment in the ACA insurance marketplace. Under the leadership of the White House and the National Council of Jewish Women, organizations including the Religion Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Rabbinical Assembly, Keshet, the Jewish Labor Committee and Uri L’Tzedek reached out to their constituents to affirm the principle that kol hamekayem nefesh achat, ma’alim alav ke’ilu kayam olam maleh, one who saves a single soul is like one who has saved the entire world.
Our community leaders, including health care professionals, financial advisers and accountants, have a moral obligation to encourage their neighbors and friends without health insurance to enroll by the March 31 deadline. Jewish tradition demands that we recognize that inaction on health care has staggering effects on our economy, health and moral well-being. The time to act is now, before it is too late.