Commentary Health Systems

A Rabbi Responds to Mitch McConnell: Sorry Senator, Health Care IS the Issue!

Rabbi Dennis S. Ross

As a religious advocate for reproductive care, I was taken aback by U. S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) recent comment, “That is not the issue,” when asked about extending health coverage to 30 million American uninsured.

As a religious advocate for reproductive care, I was taken aback by U. S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) recent comment, “That is not the issue,” when asked about extending health coverage to the 30 million Americans who are uninsured.

Sen. McConnell was talking with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, discussing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Sen. McConnell has pledged to “repeal and replace.” Mr. Wallace wanted to know the Senator’s plan for the millions of uninsured who without ACA, would be left to go without insurance coverage. Twice the Senator dodged the question. Mr. Wallace asked a third time. Mr. McConnell said, “That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step-by-step to improve the American health care system.”

Mr. Wallace responded, “You don’t think the 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?”

Sen. McConnell replied, “Let me tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a western European system.”

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Truth is that Europe is not “the issue.” The issue is health care.

I am the parent of three young adults – a college student and two recent college graduates — I am relieved health care is one less worry in our household thanks to an ACA provision already in place and recently upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court. ACA allows three million young adults like ours to remain on their parents’ plans. Given the condition of our economy, and the many challenges confronting young adults seeking work and needing health care coverage, ACA has been a comfort under our roof. And as a person of faith and member of the clergy, I view this extension of health insurance coverage as a great blessing.

Judaism teaches that the body is on loan from God, as a sacred trust, and a person honors that trust by staying healthy. Anything we can do to help people get to a doctor or nurse enables the fulfillment of a spiritual obligation. What is more, as a pastor to families and households confronted by medical challenges, I can tell you that it’s heartbreaking when someone has to choose between good health and a decent meal, or has to decide between covering the rent or paying for a prescription, birth control or otherwise. Thank God ACA made health insurance available to our young adults, along with three million others their age!

Yet ACA remains unpopular among many, as I saw firsthand, during a recent meeting with a congressional staffer in Washington. The Congress member voted against ACA and the staffer wanted to justify the vote. “People hate this bill,” he said.

“I like it,” I replied. “It is a promise to my family, to our kids, and to millions of young adults starting out on their own.”

He didn’t accept what I said, but I still hold my ground. Health care is the issue for three million young adults, like mine, as it continues to be the issue for millions of others who welcome the promise of ACA. Politicians from Mitt Romney to Mitch McConnell have pledged to overturn ACA. I, along with millions of others, hope they can be persuaded to see this issue differently, allow ACA to stand and include no-co-pay coverage for birth control.

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