Let Health Care Ring


“(T)he affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.” — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On January 24, 2010, Jews United for Justice will present its annual Heschel-King award, named for the above-quoted leaders who have made social justice a major emphasis of their lives’ energy and effort. We are honored that one of the two recipients is our own Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Robert Cohn; the other is Dr. Donald Suggs, the highly accomplished publisher of the St. Louis American.

The timing of the award is particularly apt as the United States House of Representatives and Senate are about to join in conference to consider the health care bills passed in each chamber at the urging of President Barack Obama. Both Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King recognized the essential need to provide a health safety net for all Americans.


We agree with them and view the major elements of the bills as rooted in both moral imperative and pragmatic necessity:

* Universal care is the right thing. If you accept the premise that basic health care should be available and affordable to all Americans, as we do, then the inescapable conclusion is that the status quo simply isn’t effective on a wide variety of fronts. Over 40 million Americans are uninsured; the number of medical bankruptcies is astronomical; and recessionary unemployment has forced many to choose between health, food, clothing and shelter. There is no evidence that the current regulatory overlay, occurring primarily at the state level, is sufficient to lead us toward universal coverage.

* America should lead by example. As a society we speak of our need to be a beacon among nations, yet the United States stands alone among 68 industrialized nations (including Israel) in lacking universal care, either via single payer or otherwise. If we are to be world leaders in courage and conscience, we had better lead by example in the way we treat our own.

* The bills represent compromise and a critical start. A lot has been made, by those on both sides of the aisle, about flaws in the bills. From the right, expense, lack of personal physician choice and forced coverage for individuals and businesses have been the chief criticisms. From the left, abortion restrictions and the absence of a so-called “public option” in the Senate bill (which purportedly would rein in insurance company premiums and profits) have taken center stage. While we are particularly concerned about the limits on a woman’s reproductive rights, suffice it to say that we believe the main tenets of the two bills — insuring at least 30 million more Americans by 2019 (at least half of whom are females currently uncovered), elimination of pre-existing condition limitations by 2014 (and potentially immediately for children), and a focus on preventive medicine and well care — are so crucial to the future of America as to outweigh the significant deficiencies.

* The time is now, and later may be too late. As we move toward the 2010 midterm elections, the political rancor surrounding major public policy issues would most likely derail this potentially historic effort. We have heard, and are not impressed by, cries of the opposition that the legislation is being “rammed through” and is not “bipartisan.” This is a classic red herring. The public and Congress have been engaged in this exercise for half a year, and debates galore have been available to read in papers, on the Internet, and to view live on C-SPAN. As for bipartisanship — it cuts both ways. Democrats in the House, a good 39 of them, voted against the bill, yet only one Republican voted for the bill in either chamber. To extract from these facts that one party is more or less “bipartisan” than the other is a difficult analytical stretch.

There are no doubt myriad opinions within the Jewish community about these bills. Though a great number of Jewish individuals and organizations support health care reform, some do not, and those naysayers see no conflict between their Jewish values and their position on this political issue. We have neither the right nor the wisdom to judge them or anyone for how their personal religious beliefs apply to matters of public policy.

But from our vantage point, the vision that Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King had for America — that of a nation united in its commitment to civil rights, social justice and protecting the unfortunate — is the one that rings most true. That is why health care reform is so utterly critical, and that is why we support the major elements of the House and Senate bills.