As Rabbi James A. Gibson finished strumming his guitar in a rendition of “Shavuah Tov,” he said to his congregation, “How do I know the Messiah is not here? Millions of people don’t have health care.”
So began, in a traditional Jewish way, eight weeks of nonpartisan conversations in preparation for the 2008 election.
The “God Bless America Series,” which began Saturday, Sept. 13, at Temple Sinai, will explore the Jewish take on several hot-button issues.
The debate about health care is one of the key differences separating the two presidential candidates in the November election.
“The point of this evening is to help us grow as informed Jewish voters,” said Ronald B.B. Symons, director of the newly created Sivitz Lifelong Leaning Initiative. “In the tumult of negative campaign ads, we are unable to separate truth from fiction. We’re hoping that nonpartisan conversation about the issues at large and Jewish fundamental values will help us discern what each of us should do on Nov. 4. No matter what the decision is.”
Judith Lave, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh, presented the complicated health care issues facing voters in the coming election.
“There is agreement about the facts that are driving health reform: an increase in the cost of health care and health care premiums, and increase in the numbers of people without insurance (and the underinsured), and problems with quality and safety,” she said.
“There is also agreement — because it is a fact — that there is wide variation in the cost of care across the U.S. without any appreciable impact on outcome (to the extent that we can measure it),” she added.
There may be agreement about the problem, she said, but there is no agreement about the solution.
“Obama’s primary interest is in decreasing the number of the uninsured,” Lave said. “He would decrease this by expanding the public programs and by encouraging employers to provide health insurance through a ‘pay or play’ policy (provide health insurance for your employees or pay into a fund) and by providing subsidies to small firms. He would also simplify the individual market by coordinating the marketing of insurance plans and by letting a government run plan compete with private plans.”
On the other hand, “McCain’s prime interest is to expand the use of individual market, to decrease the role of the insurer and to use competition to drive down costs,” Lave said. “He would get rid of mandates that require insurance plans to cover specific benefits. He would allow the veterans to use their benefits in the private market and would encourage states to give Medicaid recipients’ vouchers to buy plans in the private market. He would also encourage the use of health savings accounts and other innovations. He would get rid of the tax subsidies for employer benefits and give families and individuals refundable tax credits of $5,000 and $2,500 to individuals. He would also provide some subsidy to the very poor. His goal is to use the power of the market to control costs and to let people buy the plan that is right for me.”
Symons also discussed the issues through Jewish values at the program. “Judaism believes that illness and healing are in God’s hands. But we can be agents of healing,” he said.
Referring to the Babylonian Talmud, Symons said health care should be there for everyone.
“If you are sick, you should be taken care of — even more so,” he said. “When we talk about health care, God is the source of wellness and illness. We have to live up to our responsibility — in that we are created in God’s image.”
(Dev Meyers can be reached at Devchronicle@gmail.com.)