Groups pushed for health care reform, but some keeping quiet on bill
NEW YORK — Several Jewish non-profit groups are lauding passage of health care reform legislation, saying it will benefit the community on a number of levels. Other groups, however, are keeping quiet in what some observers describe as a concentrated effort to keep out of the political crossfire.
Among those declining to comment on the passage of the bill is the Jewish Federations of North America, the North American arm of the country’s largest Jewish charitable network. The JFNA and its Washington office played an active role in advocating for parts of the bill, which Congress approved 219-212 late Sunday night.
According to federation insiders, the JFNA was the nonprofit organization that took the lead on pushing for inclusion of two parts of the bill it thinks could create “transformational” change for the Jewish community: The Early Act, which will create more funding for breast cancer research and detection, and The Class Act, which will allow workers to buy into a system — much like they buy into Medicare — that will provide up to $3,000 per month for long-term support and services for the elderly and infirm.
Backers say both programs are important for Jews: The former, because Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent have a higher occurrence of the markers for breast cancer than any other minority; the latter because the Jewish community is aging faster than any other subgroup, as Jews live longer and have fewer children than anyone else.
The long-term funding should also prove a windfall for the 120 Jewish nursing homes, 145 Jewish Family Service agencies and 15-20 Jewish hospitals that the federation system supports.
On Monday, the morning after the U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to pass a measure that would create sweeping change in the country’s health care and insurance system, a slew of Jewish groups issued statements supporting the bill and looking forward to President Obama signing it into law.
B’nai B’rith International has been closely watching the bill’s evolution over the past year because it operates a network of senior residences, according to Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy.
“We have looked at the whole thing because we think access to healthcare for younger people is going to affect how they age,” Goldberg said. “All of the Jewish organizations have come at this from slightly different angles. Because of our expertise, we are looking at things like access to care for everyone. And healthy aging is not possible without access to healthcare … For other Jewish organizations that are responsible for running nursing homes, they are affected in different and more direct ways because they are providers.”
Likewise, the Religious Action Center, the political lobby of the Reform movement, said in a statement that the adopted bill “is not perfect. But it is necessary.”
And while the Jewish Council on Public Affairs did not put out a public statement, its executive director, Rabbi Steve Gutow, endorsed the bill in an interview with JTA Tuesday.
“Knowing our community, we will take advantage of the things in there that apply for us,” said Gutow, whose organization is a public policy umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, several national organizations and more than 100 communities in North America.
The biggest public debate between Jews has emerged between Jewish partisan organizations. On Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council effusively praised the bill and the president for getting it passed, saying it ranked among “such monumental legislative achievements as the passage of Social Security in the 1930’s.”
On the other hand, before the bill was passed into law, the Republican Jewish Coalition called the proposal “deeply flawed” and said, “Substantively, the Obama plan is wrong for America.”
Some supporters of the bill say partisan politics may explain the silence of several large organizations that at various points over the past year have pushed for the bill or portions of it.
The JFNA, which raises close to $2 billion per year through its more than 150 federations — and lobbies the federal government for hundreds of millions more to help care for the elderly — has been silent since the House vote, even though the federations and the Jewish Family Service organizations that they potentially have much to gain.
“We will not be issuing any statements on this issue,” the spokesman for Jewish Federations wrote in an e-mail.
Outside observers are saying that the federations, like some other large organizations, are now stuck in a position where they may be happy that the bill passed, but cannot publicly say so for fear of upsetting major donors who side with the Republicans on the issue.
The highly charged, bitterly partisan fight that the world observed on Capital Hill over the past week has spilled into the board rooms of many Jewish organizations, making it harder for some to take very public stances on the bill, backers said.
“It’s amazing how few Jewish groups got into this fight,” the RAC’s executive director, Rabbi David Saperstein, told JTA. “The Conservative movement and a few others co-sponsored a call with the president in which they brought this up. The Orthodox didn’t do anything. The federation system was nominally supportive of it.”
The JCPA says it supported the bill and was publicly applauding its passage publicly, though it did not issue a press release. Health care is a loaded issue, especially for an umbrella group that has many factions to please.
“We supported this,” the JCPA’s Gutow said. “But it became more complicated as the health care bill became more complicated and partisan.”