In 1990, a national commission reviewed a broken health-care system and issued the following recommendations: universal health insurance coverage, free choice of competing health plans, a minimum benefits package, maximum waiting times for service provision, and clear definitions of how the system would be financed.
By historical American standards, this would be considered a radical reform. In fact, it is the basis of Israel’s national health plan. The recommendations were contained in a seminal report by the Netanyahu Commission.
Israel’s national health-care plan is not perfect, but its wide popularity, enviable cost containment, and the coverage it extends across its diverse and demanding population provide an important contrast to America’s “system,” which leaves tens of millions without health coverage, creates a climate of economic anxiety among employers and employees, and offers few incentives for controlling runaway costs. The health-care debate has lasted as long as it has because too many Americans have become convinced, thanks to an array of cynical interest groups, that any change will only be for the worse, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.
Congress is at last speeding toward adoption of a health-care bill. According to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a tireless proponent of health-care reform, the legislation will expand coverage to millions of Americans, protect low-income and vulnerable populations, promise quality affordable care, and rest on a financially sustainable foundation. The bill has been a long time coming and is hardly the cure-all activists had long hoped for. But it does constitute, as the RAC’s Mark Pelavin put it, “a significant step toward establishing health-care coverage as a right and not a privilege in our country.” Pelavin and activists at other major Jewish groups are relieved that a bill may at last be signed, even as they recognize its problematic components, including restrictions on women’s access to abortion and reproductive health care.
A compromised bill, however, is better than no bill at all. Our hope is that Americans of all political persuasions can rally around this legislation, embrace the change, and recognize that the kind of health-care security Israelis take for granted is the least we can expect from a nation as rich and great as our own.