Affordable Care Act Reflects Jewish Values
Jewish tradition has long advocated broad access to health services. Maimonides, the revered medieval Jewish physician and scholar, listed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city should offer its residents (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot IV: 23). Almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that all their citizens had access to health care. Doctors were required to reduce their rates for poor patients, and when that was not sufficient, communal subsidies were established (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249:16; Responsa Ramat Rahel of Rabbi Eliezer Waldernberg, sections 24-25).
Guided by our tradition and these texts, the Reform Jewish Movement has long advocated for more accessible health coverage and passed numerous resolutions on the importance of an affordable and inclusive health care system. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was a leading voice in the faith community advocating for the passage of the Affordable Care Act; in the two years since it was passed, we have worked to educate our community about the new law and defend it against legislative attacks. In advance of the Supreme Court’s consideration of the law, the Union for Reform Judaism proudly signed on to two briefs: one arguing for the constitutionality of the individual mandate and another arguing in favor of the law’s expansion of Medicaid, which helps more low-income individuals get the health care they deserve and speaks directly to the practice of reducing rates for the poor and providing communal subsidies for health care when necessary. Moreover, the bold efforts of our congregations around the country have demonstrated solidarity around the improvements the Affordable Care Act can make to our health care system.
Access to affordable health care, including preventative and emergency care, is a fundamental human right. A mother should not have to choose between preventative health services and rent payment. A senior should not have to pay for costly prescription drugs and worry about depleting his or her savings. Lack of insurance should not prevent a child from maturing into a healthy adult. The Affordable Care Act helps ensure that 32 million fewer Americans will have to sacrifice their health because of circumstances out of their control. We acknowledge that this expansion of coverage is not universal, but it is a significant improvement over the system we have now, where insurers and money too often dictate the care we receive.
Our tradition teaches us that human life is of infinite value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations. We, as Jews, believe that God endowed humanity with the understanding and ability to become partners with God in improving our world. The use of our wisdom to cure illnesses and formulate policies to provide health care has always been a central theme in Jewish thought and history, and the Affordable Care Act is a modern expression of that theme.
When I recall the words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers made very clear that one of the primary purposes of government is to promote the general welfare of its citizens. The Affordable Care Act is a law that does just that, serving the best interests of all by ensuring that no one has to suffer or go bankrupt because of lack of insurance. Not only is promoting the general welfare the responsibility of a government to its people, but it is also a moral imperative grounded in Jewish tradition.
The Reform Movement remains steadfast in its support of the Affordable Care Act and all of its provisions. Regardless of Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, we will continue to advocate for further improvements to our nation’s health care system to transform it into one that reflects the Jewish values that guide our advocacy—preserving life and caring for all people, including the most vulnerable.