(March 16, 2014 / JNS) What would you do if you saw someone drowning in a river? Or witnessed someone being torn limb from limb by wild beasts? Or if you stumbled upon someone who was under attack by armed robbers? Judaism is clear in its answer; you intervene to save them. The Jewish sages use these cases as the springboard to teach that we always have an obligation to save a life.
Health insurance saves lives. That is why we have an obligation to try to reach every American who needs access to quality, affordable insurance, and to help each sign up through the new insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.
Each and every one of us is fashioned in the image of God, and therefore every single life is infinitely valuable. And yet, as we all know, life—and disease—is unpredictable. The more than four million people who have bought private plans through the marketplaces so far understand this need for protection. They now have the life-saving benefits of insurance coverage. Moreover, they have the peace of mind knowing they will be able to access the care they need, when they need it. They can’t be denied coverage, and it can’t be taken away.
Up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions—including 17 million children—no longer have to worry about being denied health coverage or charged higher premiums because of their health status. People don’t have to fear that their health insurance will be cut off once they reach an annual or lifetime limit on benefits. Preventive health care services—such as mammograms, birth control and immunization—are covered without added cost to the consumer; women are not charged higher premiums because of their gender; and approximately 60 million Americans now have, or will gain, expanded mental health and substance use benefits.
There’s a problem, though: While enrollment continues to grow, many people still don’t know how, why or by when to get covered in the marketplace. That’s where we come in. We can help by encouraging people to explore their coverage options and choose a health plan that best fits their needs or refer them to someone who can walk them through the process. Health care professionals, financial advisers, and accountants can be especially helpful in telling others about open enrollment.
No matter what you might have heard when the program first rolled out, the marketplaces are working well and individuals can find out everything they need to know by going to healthcare.gov or by phoning 1-800-318-2596. Through these resources, they can also learn if they qualify for federal financial assistance to help them afford private insurance, or if they are eligible to enroll in the Medicaid program. And while youth enrollment is outpacing all other age groups, it is especially important that we reach out to encourage more young people (ages 18-34) to enroll, not only because they help the economics of the insured pools, but more importantly because while youths often feel invincible, sadly we know that disease is age agnostic.
Accessible, affordable health coverage isn’t just about health; it’s also about economic security. Each of us is equally deserving of access to health care—wherever and whenever we may need it—without risking our financial future or other basic needs. That’s where the “affordable” comes in. The majority of people without insurance today will be able to find a plan for $100 a month or less, although the marketplaces offer a variety of plans with different benefit levels with varying costs.
The benefits of health coverage last a lifetime, but the window for signing up is closing. The enrollment period for this year ends on March 31. Save a life; spread the word. As Hillel, one of the greatest Jewish sages of all time, so aptly urged: “If not now, when?”
Rabbi Lori Koffman is the founder and director of Mamash (http://mamash.org) and a member of the National Board of the National Council of Jewish Women. In addition to a rabbinic degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary, she holds an MA in political science from the University California at Berkeley and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
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