Jewish groups back health care act; others reserve opinion

Jewish groups back health care act; others reserve opinion

While recently among a crowd in New England, Lori Weinstein found that half the people in the room did not have health insurance because their employers did not provide it.

“People are not getting treatment until things are too far down the line, because people are not getting preventative treatment,” said Weinstein, executive director of Jewish Women International, which is a “strong supporter” of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. “I think that at its core, the sense of Jewish values is taking care of vulnerable people, and that it’s those values that Jewish women’s organizations have been built on.”

While a recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows that 47 percent of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act — and only 36 percent of those questioned said they support the law either somewhat or strongly — many Jewish organizations are backing the controversial law that is under Supreme Court review this week.

Obama’s health care overhaul has created ardent political debate, with Republican presidential candidates claiming the law impinges upon personal freedom, and that it will place undue financial burdens on states, businesses and individuals. Supporters of the law say it will protect the health of the country’s most vulnerable.

At the heart of the Supreme Court’s review is what has become known as the “individual mandate,” a requirement that most people either purchase health insurance by 2014, or pay a penalty. Twenty-six states, including Pennsylvania, have challenged the law, alleging that Congress has exceeded its constitutional power in attempting to regulate commerce by requiring people to purchase insurance.

But the Affordable Care Act, which Obama signed into law two years ago, has already helped millions of individuals, according to statistics released in December 2011 by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those statistics show that, because of the law’s provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, the percentage of adults ages 19 to 25 covered by health insurance has increased significantly, with approximately 2.5 million more young adults being covered since 2010 than would have been without the law.

The act also provides for many improvements in health care efficiency and safety, according to Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

“As you might imagine, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation supports the Affordable Care Act,” said Feinstein in an email to the Chronicle. “There are many provisions of the act that advance our own agenda in safety, quality improvement and efficiency; unfortunately, many are relatively unknown, lost in the debate over the individual mandate.

“We are pleased to have had a small role in shaping the provisions related to hospital safety, medical homes, payment reform, educating our workforce and expanding the scope of work of paraprofessionals, integrating behavioral and physical health, and redesigning delivery systems,” Feinstein continued. “We also support efforts to expand coverage, open access to care, and protect patients from sudden insurance cancellations.”

Jewish women’s groups have also come out in favor of the act.

“We are strong supporters of the Affordable Care Act,” said Sammie Moshenberg, director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). “Not that it’s perfect, but it provides great benefits for women.

“The law has eliminated insurance discrimination against women,” Moshenberg continued, adding that before the law was passed, insurance companies were permitted to charge women higher premiums than men.

Because of the new law, insurance companies are now required to cover critical preventative services without charging women co-pays or other out-of- pocket expenses, Moshenberg said. Those services include mammograms, Pap tests, prenatal screenings, FDA-approved contraceptives, lactation consultations and supplies, and domestic violence screenings.

Like NCJW, JWI also supports the Affordable Care Act, in large part due to its benefits to women.

“One of the most important things is it (the act) eliminates pre-existing conditions,” said Weinstein “[Women and children] can no longer be dropped from their health insurance when they need it most.”

Before passage of the act, women who were victims of domestic violence could be denied insurance, because domestic violence was considered to be a pre-existing condition, Weinstein said. Removal of the pre-existing condition clause now allows women who are victims of abuse to be covered by health insurance.

“We feel strongly that the Affordable Care Act will universally benefit women and families,” she said. “And we believe in the individual mandate, as what makes health care affordable is that everyone is paying into a system that will help them over time.”

Still, with all the potential benefits of the act, the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which communicates and advocates with state governmental policy makers, is waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s decision before evaluating the impact of the law on the state budget, and to take a position on the law accordingly, according to PJC Executive Director Hank Butler.

“We have a lot of concerns with the budget, and this would add more concerns of how the money would be spent,” Butler said. “Right now the issue of health care is such a political football. We need to filter out the politics and look at the true impact to the state, trying to examine it without the political rhetoric.

The Republicans are saying one thing, and the Democrats are saying another,” he added. “We need to find out what’s going on here. After the higher court rules, we’ll know what we’re dealing with.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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