The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Last Friday, as news quickly spread throughout Washington and around the country that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was being pulled from consideration, I stood just feet away from where Members of Congress were entering to cast their votes. For the past four months, I have worked as part of a multi-faith coalition committed to protecting the Affordable Care Act from repeal. Friday was a victory for all who have benefitted from the enormous progresses that have been made by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and for the many people who have been working hard to ensure that as many people as possible have access to affordable, high-quality health care. It is important to pause at this moment and consider the lessons we can draw from the collapse of the AHCA.
The most important lesson we can take from last week’s events is that any future health care reform must advance the progresses made by the ACA, not move backward. The ACA has its flaws, but we should not lose sight that the law increased coverage by over 20 million Americans, and has made a number of positive changes to the health care system that benefit all Americans. Nearly 30 million Americans still lack coverage—a number that should motivate further changes. And millions more still pay far too much for their health insurance. But legislation like the AHCA—that would have reduced coverage to pre-ACA levels—is an unacceptable option.
The collapse of the AHCA also demonstrates the enormous power that constituents have to shape policy. According to one estimate, calls made to members of the House of Representatives broke 50:1 in opposition to the AHCA. Regardless of the exact ratio, members of Congress were aware of the outcry of anger to the reckless legislation. Phone calls, letters and town hall meeting attendance all called on members of Congress to confront the views of their constituents. Individual actions can sometimes feel inconsequential, but the combined power of people making their voices heard should not be underestimated. This is true beyond the debate over health care; constituents can influence upcoming discussions about the budget, immigration, environmental policy, or any of the many issues that may arise or that we feel passionately about.
Finally, the AHCA’s withdrawal shows the faith community’s power to influence issues of moral importance. Over the last few months, I have been inspired by the opportunity to work with representatives from a wide range of religious organizations. We focused our advocacy work on low-income families, individuals with disabilities and sick Americans, who would have been disproportionately harmed by the AHCA. Our religious teachings inform how we evaluated various health care proposals, and we lifted up these perspectives as we expressed our opposition to the AHCA. We do not believe that religious traditions should be the basis for policymaking, but instead called attention to providing health care for our communities as a moral issue. From the Jewish perspective, we consider health care a right, not a privilege, as demonstrated by the fact that almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that all their citizens had access to health care (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 249:16; Responsa Ramat Rahel of Rabbi Eliezer Waldernberg, sections 24-25.)
The debate over health care policy in the United States did not end last Friday. As we continue to think about this issue and many more, we can draw from the lessons we have learned over the past months. We will continue to recognize the need for policies that benefit as many Americans as possible, reflect the will of the people, and draw from the values our collective religious or moral traditions can offer.