Can There Be A Jewish Values Approach To Paying For Health Care?

Yes! We are gearing up for a week of intense debate and discussion on the revisions to the Health Care system of the USA. Already the political lines seem drawn and, no doubt, the many cable TV news sites are lining up “experts” and talking heads on the subject in order to fill a week;’s worth of 24 hour news cycle. The media is alive with charts and graphs that explain and decode the various nuances in the healthcare bills. On my desk I have a small collection from a variety of newspapers and magazines. There are editorials galore.
So, a question remains for us that looks at our own tradition. Is there, or can there be a Jewish approach to the issue of how to pay for and create a health care delivery system? Obviously, the question begs the answer. It should come as no surprise that many have looked at this in recent years in an attempt to see how Jewish values and tradition could influence or guide decisions in this area. We have already alluded to, in this space, a few approaches. Some of the basis for a Jewish approach stems from texts that look at allocation of scarce resources and a theme of decisions being made for what is in the greater good or best interests of the community in general. Certainly, many are familiar with the ethical and moral themes of some texts that have the community providing for those who cannot provide for themselves and there is the famous passage in Talmud Sanhedrin that “all Israel is responsible one for the other”.
Another value that seems to have found meaning in some contemporary scholars is that on justice. The tradition of “tzedek” seems to have influenced several people’s approaches to this issue as it emerged within the USA from the 1990’s. What does it mean to create a system based on the value of “justice”? What would a “justice” based health care delivery and payment system look like. If we are responsible for each other, how do we make it so there is equality while at the same time understanding that we deal with a limited resources (human beings and money).
As we have written here, one of the sessions we do as part of Jewish Sacred Aging is a session on the “economics of aging” and we look at this issue of costs and payment. The discussion guide we use contains an overview of several contemporary scholars with a summary of some of their writings on this issue; all based on their understanding of texts. In light of the discussions now underway, we have posted the Health Care Discussion Guide on the Jewish Sacred Aging home page. Feel free to download it. Go to the top menu bar. Click on RESOURCES and then click on Health Care Discussion Guide. Your comments are welcome. Thanks to Steve Lubetkin of Lubetkin Global Media for setting this up.
As the debate develops, no matter what your political leaning, keep our tradition in mind. We need to do that. We need to keep a focus on what is a justice based system and how do we evolve it within the limits of our resources.
Rabbi Richard F Address

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