American individualism, at the root of some of the great blessings of freedom and pluralism of our country, is also the ultimate cause over the last half century of our inability as a nation to come together to provide health care for us all, in shameful contrast to all the other Western democracies. President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”)—adopted in Congress only after prodigious effort on the part of the President and his allies and at the cost of a number of members of Congress losing their seats in the subsequent 2010 election, and now approved as Constitutional by the slimmest of majorities of the Supreme Court as well—is finally going to accomplish that important end.
As American Jews, we inherit not only the American heritage of Western liberalism, but also the Jewish heritage that is much more communitarian, that requires us as a community to take care of the poor and sick in our midst. The Jewish part of us therefore applauds loudly that we Americans have finally found a way to come together to achieve this morally important goal.
But the American part of our identity must also applaud. American pragmatism, after all, is also part of our heritage. Until the new legislation, people without health insurance—or who are underinsured—have gotten the services they need but in the most expensive way possible—through the emergency room. This is not only morally problematic because it forces people to suffer the pain of diseases often for months or years before they get medical help, but it is also fiscally irresponsible. It is no wonder that for the last 20 years we Americans have been spending 15 to 18 percent of our gross national product on health care, while Canadians, Europeans and Israelis have spent half that, and, according to annual United Nations ratings, they get much better results in health outcomes than we do. So the pragmatic, American side of us, as well as the morally insistent Jewish side of us, should celebrate the fact that we as a nation finally have a way to provide for health care for us all.