Jewish law is deeply concerned about and committed to healthcare being a matter of collective responsibility. The American Jewish community is vocal in support of healthcare reform, and and over the past few years there has been great progress in ensuring that the most vulnerable are able to get the healthcare they need. Yet the ultimate success or failure of Obamacare may be up to millenials, many of whom are relucant to participate.
Ongoing changes in the law have provided concrete improvements for millions of Americans. Consider the following changes under "Obamacare:"
• About 55 million Americans who had no health insurance are expected to obtain insurance unattached to their job which will free them up to start businesses, take new jobs, and have protection in the event of job loss. Until now, individual insurance was prohibitively expensive, and those who were laid off from work faced the prospect of paying huge COBRA payments (and even these do not last beyond 18 months), often forcing a choice between paying for food, rent, and health insurance.
• Health insurance exclusions for a lengthy list of pre-existing conditions have been abolished, enabling millions of Americans with chronic conditions to obtain (and/or maintain) health insurance.
• Health insurance companies can no longer cancel the policies of people who become ill. Before Obamacare, more than half of all bankruptcies in this country were due to out of control health-related expenses.
• Many preventive care measures, such as colonoscopies, monitoring tests, and some birth control methods for women, must now be offered for free by health insurance companies.
• The Medicare "donut hole," in which the elderly pay up to several thousand dollars yearly before they qualify for greater subsidies in prescription medications, will be eliminated by 2020, dramatically lowering the cost of prescription medications for the elderly.
• The Medical Loss Ratio provision mandates that health insurance companies use 80 percent of premium payments toward healthcare and not toward management or administrative expenses. This drives premiums down and rebates up for consumers and employers providing insurance coverage.
But many of the benefits of Obamacare are dependent on nearly universal participation in health insurance, which can be purchased by many with state health marketplaces that should provide lower premiums through competition and a larger pool of the insured.
Yet there are an estimated 2.7 million young healthy uninsured Americans between the ages of 18-35. For Obamacare to work, the White House says, this group needs to enroll. Many young healthy Americans may choose to take the fine to pay if you don’t get covered (which escalates with time) rather than purchasing health insurance since they figure they’re healthy and don’t need to be covered. But if they hold out, there will be a disproportionate number of less-healthy older Americans who would be covered, inevitably causing a rise in healthcare premiums across the board.
We need young healthy people to enroll (or pre-register for information) to turn the new healthcare dream (for more universal coverage) into a reality. Folks might let their friends know on social media that they’ve signed and encourage others to do so as well.
We must encourage American youth to take advantage of subsidies offered and purchase health insurance not only for their own good but for the good of the country. We should inform them that their own future healthcare needs will be best served by establishing a system that benefits society as a whole. As Jews, we should be at the forefront of promoting a more just society that values the life and welfare of all people.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”