REFORM JEWISH LEADERS PUSH FOR PRESCRIPTION DRUG BENEFITS FOR SENIORS
We can no longer ignore the plight of millions of elderly citizens who are unable to meet the expenses of necessary and life-saving prescription drugs.
-Rabbis Yoffie and Menitoff
NEW YORK, July 23, 2002 -- In a letter today to Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Minority Leader Trent Lott, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice-President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, urged Senators to support legislation guaranteeing prescription drug coverage for the millions of elderly citizens.
The complete letter follows:
On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose over 900 congregations encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), representing 1800 Reform rabbis, we write to express our support for the Medicare Outpatient Prescription Drug Act of 2002 (S. 2625), which is being offered as an amendment (S.AMDT.4309) to the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act of 2001(S. 812) by Senators Bob Graham and Zell Miller. This plan -- unlike the proposal sponsored by Senators Grassley, Snowe, Breaux, Jeffords, and Hatch (S.AMDT.4310) -- would guarantee prescription drug coverage for the millions of elderly citizens of our nation.
Jewish tradition recognizes the vulnerability and abandonment that may come with old age. The Psalmist laments, "cast me not away in time of old age, forsake me not when my strength is spent." The Bible responds to the fear of old age by urging people to respect and care for their elders. As it is written in the Book of Leviticus: "You shall rise up before the gray haired and defer to the one who is elder" (Leviticus 19:32). Again and again, we are commanded to take care of those who are most vulnerable in our society, typified by the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.
The Graham-Miller Medicare proposal would protect those in our society who are most vulnerable. Under it, seniors would pay a modest $25 monthly premium with no deductible. Low-income seniors would pay reduced premiums, and the neediest of senior citizens would be exempted from all premiums and co-payments. The government would also fully cover all seniors, regardless of income, once they have spent $4,000 out of their own pocket. In addition, by making prescription drug coverage part of the Medicare program and thus subject to drug utilization review, the Graham-Miller proposal increases safety by catching potentially harmful drug interactions and inappropriate medications for seniors.
The Grassley amendment, however, would seriously jeopardize the health and well-being of our nation's seniors. By offering a drug benefit through private insurance companies, the proposal does not guarantee drug coverage for America's seniors. Seniors would have continuing uncertainty about the premiums they would need to pay, the cost-sharing they would bear, the drugs that would be covered, and under what conditions they could obtain those drugs. In addition, the bill does not provide comprehensive coverage. The premiums, deductible, co-payments, and holes in coverage would force seniors to pay the overwhelming majority of drug costs out of their own pockets. This proposal, which would leave millions upon millions of seniors unable to afford the medicines they need, is simply unacceptable.
The moral character of a society can be judged by the way it treats its elderly. We can no longer ignore the plight of millions of elderly citizens who are unable to meet the expenses of necessary and life-saving prescription drugs. Once again, we urge you to support the Graham-Miller amendment and oppose the Grassley amendment.
Sincerely, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Rabbi Paul Menitoff Executive Vice-President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Union of Reform Judaism is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. UAHC services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.