We Should Not Stand Idly By On Health Care

Minnesota State Representative Phyllis Kahn and local attorney Mark R. Miller, the Chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, were both asked the following question: “Is it Jewish to support national health care reform? Why or Why Not?”

Here is Rep. Kahn’s response:

At this advent of the secular New Year, it is appropriate for Jews to reflect on their duty to Tikkun Olam to “repair the world.” It is apparent that among our greatest tasks is to repair our broken health care system in the U.S. today.

Much of the debate over national health care reform that has garnered attention in the media has focused on hot button “talkers.” Will there be a public option or won’t there? How will health care reform affect the President’s approval rating? Does this or that Senator support the bill?

Let’s not lose focus of what’s at stake and why health care reform is so vitally important:

In this country that we live, it is morally reprehensible for people to die because they lack health care insurance or cannot afford to pay for it. In this country that we live, it is morally reprehensible for families to lose all their worldly possessions because of a medical expense.

Some people believe that the United States has the greatest health care system in the world, however this simply isn’t true. In fact, no country spends more for less when it comes to health care than the United States. Despite spending trillions of dollars, over 46 million Americans are uninsured and about 500,000 of them live in Minnesota. We also rank lower than many other countries on infant mortality, have a shorter life expectancy, and rank last on preventable deaths.

The spiraling cost of health insurance is making it harder for middle income families to secure quality health care for their families and it is suffocating family budgets and small businesses. The growth of health care costs has dramatically outpaced workers’ wages this decade and out of pocket spending for health insurance has increased by 240 percent.

Health care expenses aren’t just burdening family budgets, they are breaking them. In 1980, only one eight percent of bankruptcies were caused by illness and medical expenses. Today, about 60 percent of all bankruptcies are caused by illness and medical expenses. Of those, three quarters had health insurance but still went bankrupt.

The U.S. House has passed a health care reform bill and as I write this column the U.S. Senate is moving forward as well. Neither bill is perfect, but nevertheless, Congress appears to be on the verge of the most significant public policy in a generation.

Without reform, the number of uninsured Americans will soon top 50 million. With health care reform, 30 million uninsured Americans will have access to quality health care coverage. Not only will the number of uninsured drop, Americans with health insurance will see a reduction in the “hidden tax” that is passed on to them to cover the expensive treatment that uninsured Americans receive in Emergency Rooms.

Without reform, seniors and women will continue to be charged much higher rates for insurance. Right now, insurance companies can charge up to 11 times as much for seniors and up to 48% more for women. With health care reform, seniors can only be charged 3 times as much and women will be charged the same.

Without health care reform, the unsustainable cost of health care reform will continue to skyrocket. With health care reform, over $100 billion will be shaved of the federal budget deficit.

Without health care reform, Medicare will be bankrupt by 2017. With health care reform, Medicare will be solvent until 2026.

Without health care reform, senior citizens will continue to pay too much for prescription drugs. With health care reform, the Medicare Part D donut hole will begin to be filled, which will make prescription drugs more affordable. In 2010, seniors will see the donut hole reduced by $500 and will have access to 50 percent discounts on brand-name drugs until the donut hole is completely phased out in 2019.

Perhaps most importantly – without reform, insurance companies can continue to deny coverage for dozens of reasons and continue profiting from that denial of coverage. With health care reform, insurance companies will be unable to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The Torah says “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” While national health care reform is complex, this basic passage gets to the heart of why I support reform as a Jewish American.

Our health care system is not just idling, it is obsolete. The time for us to act is now.