Today, 47 million Americans people live without health insurance, and thus lack assured access to decent medical care. We think of the pain, chaos and indignity imposed on these Americans, who know that a single profound illness or injury can devastate their lives. The United States is a country with a pitifully inadequate health insurance system, one which drives the uninsured to let minor illnesses grow into major illnesses before seeking treatment, which sends thousands of people to an early grave every year and which plunges millions of Americans into severe financial distress.
There is no shortage of proposals on the table. Some, including our Movement, prefer a single-payer system in which the government provides health insurance, and some want insurance delivered by private entities under government regulation. But what we do need to discuss is not the mechanics of providing health insurance but the fundamental question of values that is as yet unresolved by our society: What do we owe each other as Americans?
As Jews, we know that communities are obligated to provide healing to all of their citizens. The Shulchan Aruch makes the point very simply: “If the physician withholds his services, it is considered as shedding blood” (S.A., Yoreh Dei-ah 336:1).
In a country such as the United States, it is natural that honest, well-intentioned people are going to differ about how to fix health care. But we cannot afford to wait. Every uninsured family is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The time has long since passed when our leaders should have done what every other advanced country has somehow managed to do: provide all its citizens with essential health care. Our Canadian members, as well as British and Israeli Reform Jews, will be happy to tell us about the health care problems in their countries. But how many of them would prefer the American system to their own?
We need not look only to Washington for answers. In light of federal failures to address this issue, most states are considering plans to cover uninsured residents. In California, Maryland and Vermont, the crucial debate is well underway. Our Massachusetts congregations have already demonstrated how effective we ourselves can be. Progress on the state level is important in and of itself; and if we succeed there, our next president will be far more likely to actively promote a national solution.
Even as we move strongly in the public policy arena, we recognize that our synagogues have a responsibility to promote good health that goes beyond public activism. Are we providing healthy food choices at our meetings, onegs and in our classrooms? Are we educating children and adults about Jewish teachings on health? Are we offering fitness programs to our members in all age categories?
The health insurance situation in the United States is a disaster. If we continue to tolerate it, we will lose our humanity, and no matter our other accomplishments, we will have failed as a people and a nation. Only by working to change it, piece by piece and child by child—until no cry for help goes unheard – can we honor the image of God in every human being.
Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
Advance the goals and values identified in previous Union resolutions by
Beginning immediately to support, or where necessary to create, state initiatives to expand access to appropriate and adequate health insurance by:
- Facilitating “lobby days” in as many states as possible over the next year, bringing Reform Jews to state capitals across the county;
- Reaching out to existing coalitional efforts to expand health care access;
- Greatly increasing other forms of state level advocacy, including face-to-face meetings with policy makers, letter writing, and coalition building; and
Calling on other American Jewish organizations to join us in this effort.
Encouraging our member congregations to serve their members and staff better by:
- Conducting a “congregational audit” to determine what they can do to keep their members and staff healthy.
- Offering a range of wellness programs for all age groups.