Health Care Reform Frees Us from Modern Mitzrayim



It somehow seems appropriate that the Supreme Court arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act occurred right around Pesach.   That’s the time of year that the need for affordable, universal health coverage really hits home for me.

It was 10 years ago, at seder, that the back pain my sister had been experiencing became noticeably worse.  Weeks later, she was in the hospital and diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that typically hits people in their 70s.  Lisa was 44 and had two very young children.

Jennifer Kaufman, at left, and her sister Lisa. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kaufman.

Our family’s story is much like many others.  We were suddenly forced to learn about a world we knew nothing about:  A life-threatening disease.  New vocabulary.  Difficult decisions.  Red tape and forms.  Chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.  Extended medical and family leaves from work.   Medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But we were among the fortunate:  We live in a city with wonderful medical care.  We are educated.  We have financial resources.  We are native English speakers.  We know how to work a system.  We have an incredible circle of family and friends who provided constant support.  Lisa’s oncologist was a member of our congregation, a good friend, and the chief of staff at the hospital.  And most importantly, Lisa was employed by a local university and had good medical coverage.

Take away any one of these pieces, and I don’t know how anyone copes with a medical crisis.  This was an overwhelming experience for us – and we were in the best possible circumstances.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act helped address a number of these problems, and we’ve seen its benefits time and time again.  Should she change jobs, Lisa won’t be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.  Any future treatment she needs will not be limited by a lifetime cap.

No, the health care law is not perfect, and yes, many of us would prefer to see a national health insurance system.  But our kids are now covered on our policies until they are 26.  Preventative care and medical treatment are available to those who previously had to choose between paying for medical care and paying a utility bill.

I am apprehensive about how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act cases, but regardless of the outcome, I have no doubt that the RAC will continue to be at the forefront of whatever battles lie ahead.  This issue is simply too important to do anything less.

After two stem cell transplants, Lisa is doing well and her disease is in remission.  It is not gone, however, and chances are that she will need additional treatment in coming years.  As I prepare for Pesach, I hope and pray that our country will be freed from its own mitzrayim so that quality, affordable health care will be available to all.

Chag sameach.

Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman is chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

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