July 2, 2012
Jewish groups largely applaud health care ruling
American Jewish groups—with the notable exception of the Republican Jewish Coalition—were largely satisfied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s vote to uphold President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 vote.
Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, was “thrilled” with the decision.
“As a Jewish woman who believes strongly that comprehensive, quality affordable health care is essential to women’s well-being and their health and their economic security, this is a terrific outcome,” Kaufman told JTA.
However, Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized in a news statement that the law’s “negative effects … on the economy, on jobs, on medical research and development, and on the quality of health care in America are very troubling.”
He added, “The American people will have the opportunity to express their opinion on the wisdom of Obamacare in this election year.”
The high court upheld the most controversial portion of the law, ruling that the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty was constitutional. It also indicated that the individual mandate of requiring Americans to buy insurance was constitutional as a tax. That mandate does not go into effect until 2014.
However, the court ruled that the provision forcing states to expand eligibility in their Medicaid programs was unconstitutional. It said the federal government cannot threaten to remove Medicaid funding from states that do not participate in expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Many observers were surprised that Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, joined the court’s liberal wing, voting with Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in upholding the law.
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted in the minority.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a news statement that he was “elated” with the ruling.
Reform congregations, he said, have been “at the forefront of advocacy on behalf of health insurance reform in their states and at the national level.” He cited Maimonides, noting that the medieval scholar “placed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city should offer its residents.”
Rabbis Julie Schonfeld and Gerry Skolnik, the executive vice president and president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said in a statement that the decision puts the country “significantly forward on a moral path, and the members of the Rabbinical Assembly will continue to promote a system of health care that is inclusive, affordable, accessible and accountable.”
Rabbis for Human Rights-North America also applauded the decision, saying in a statement that “it is our moral duty to provide health care for all.”
Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, offered a personal remembrance of when he was a child and his father lost his job, “and my family was afraid we might not be able to afford health insurance.”
“Today’s ruling means that millions of families will never again have to endure this kind of fear,” van Capelle wrote in a statement.
Some Jewish organizations focused on what they said was gender-based discrimination by health insurance companies. They claimed that some companies charged higher rates for women.
With that in mind, NCJW supported the Affordable Care Act provisions that assisted women with affordable preventive services and ended gender-based discrimination by health insurance plans.
The law also allows for preventive services for women such as mammograms and prenatal screenings without co-pays.
Marcie Natan, the national president of Hadassah, said in a news statement that her organization “recognizes that lack of coverage compromises the health and economic well-being of millions of uninsured individuals, as well as our nation as a whole.”
Likewise, Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said, “We have long supported a comprehensive health care reform and we were obviously quite pleased that it came out this way.”
Going forward, various Jewish organizations will focus their advocacy efforts on implementation issues.
Kaufman added that NCJW will continue to ensure that the government implements the law.
“Obviously we’re going to be monitoring this very closely and ensuring that the law of the land is upheld,” Kaufman said.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives intends to vote on a repeal of the law on July 11 after its members return from their Fourth of July recess.
Regardless of that possibility, David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, emphasized that the decision will play well with American Jews for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
“The American Jewish community is clearly supportive of so much of Obamacare, just as a broad majority of Jews support President Obama’s domestic agenda,” Harris said in a statement to JTA. He said the court’s decision “will remind Americans and American Jews why they’ve supported the president all along.”