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July 30, 2014 | 3rd Av 5774

Why State-Level Advocacy?

In the 1993 URJ resolution, Reform of Health Care System, the movement stressed that congregations should “continue their educational effort on the issue of health care, with a special focus on promoting advocacy by our congregations, their members, and UAHC affiliates of reform of the health care system embodying the principles of this resolution on both state and national levels.” As Vermont, Massachusetts, and California have shown, the time is ripe for this very effort. Universal access is very much on the state’s agenda and congregations can play a major role in advocating and shaping this. This can and should be a priority for the movement. As Isaac Israel, a 9th century Jewish physician and scholar explains, “Make it your special concern to visit and treat the poor and needy patients, for in no way can you find more meritorious service” (Doctors Guide, Num 30).

One of the most striking changes in the American political landscape in recent years is the “devolution” of critical public policy issues from the Federal to the State level. This trend began in the Reagan years, but then it was primarily on social service issues. That, of course, is very important. What is new is that in the past couple of years we have seen significant State level action on church/state, gay rights, affirmative action, campaign finance reform, and even Israel issues (primarily concerning divestment).

Impatient (rightly!) with the failure of the Federal government to act, some states have already started moving toward this aim. There are a number of different models, and rather that choosing among them, we recommend that our congregations get behind the leading approach in each state.

The most important example is Massachusetts, which will require that all companies with 11 or more employees provide their workers with health insurance. If companies are unable to do this they are charged $295 a year per worker. This money will then go back into the state’s welfare funds to provide insurance to the uninsured. According to Governor Mitt Romney, this bill will cover 95% of the states 500,000 uninsured by the year 2009.

Additionally, Vermont has had a great deal of success on the health care front. The Health Care Affordability Act (H861) which passed on May 9, 2006 creates the Catamount Health Program, a plan sold by private insurers and supplemented by public funds that provides low income residents with comprehensive health insurance. The plan would be funded by an increase in the states tobacco tax and from Medicaid waiver financing.

Although Massachusetts and Vermont have had the most success on enacting health care reform other states have begun taking steps toward universal access. The Wisconsin Health Care Plan (SB 698) which will be introduced in January 2007 will provide insurance coverage to all Wisconsin citizens who have resided in the state for six or more months. In addition, New York recently introduced the Working New Yorkers Health Insurance Act (AB 4129) which requires all employers with 25+ employees to pay at least 80 percent of insurance premiums.

Perhaps most importantly, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently announced a major plan to provide health coverage to all Californians. Clearly, whatever happens in the nation’s largest state will have a significant impact on the rest of the county.

For more information about why Jewish advocacy is an important tool for social change, see the RAC's publication entitled 'Why Advocacy is Central To Reform Judaism.'

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