Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Elul 22, 5774

Honing In on Health

July 9, 2009
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It's easy to be skeptical about members of Congress being able to reach a quick consensus on a plan to overhaul our nation's health care system. But do it they must.

The organized Jewish community is nearly unanimous about the need to change the system -- both for moral and parochial reasons.

Morally, it is abhorrent that millions of Americans cannot afford to pay for insurance for themselves and their children. Skyrocketing medical-related costs put an additional burden on our already strained economy and threaten the protections of those who are insured.

In the Jewish community, a particular concern is the fate of long-term health care and costs for seniors, as Jews represent a disproportionately high percentage of all aging Americans.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported this week, two Jewish umbrella bodies -- United Jewish Communities, the North American arm of the federation system, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs -- are focusing their efforts on the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports) Act, which would set up a government-run insurance system for adults with long-term health care needs.

The voluntary program would require a small contribution each month throughout a person's working life. After five years of enrollment, participants would be eligible to receive up to $3,000 a month for in-home or institutional care if they are deemed unable to perform certain basic functions, such as cooking or bathing.

Although the CLASS measure has not made it into most of the competing proposals swirling around Congress, it did get a boost this month when the Congressional Budget Office found that it would provide a $60 billion savings over 10 years. With the costs of a new model projected at a trillion dollars, any sensible proposal that saves funds and fulfills a need is worth a close look.

Much of the debate is focused on the creation of a public insurance plan. Critics worry that creating one to compete with private insurers would become a bureaucratic nightmare that would drive private insurers out of business and would be tantamount to a nationalized system of care. But a carefully crafted plan could instead have the intended effect -- to provide healthy competition that would likely drive down the inflated costs among private insurers.

Clearly, the real sticking point on Capitol Hill is likely to center on the biggest challenge: how to pay for the sorely needed overhaul. As Washington gets down to the nitty gritty, we will inevitably see the partisan dueling that has so often sunk important legislation in the past. There are, however, glimmers of hope that this time, our lawmakers hear the demand for change. The stakes are too high. Just do it.

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