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Jewish agencies study Obamacare’s impact
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Jewish agencies study Obamacare’s impact

Local Jewish organizations were represented at a national “summit” on the Affordable Care Act, learning how “Obamacare” will affect health-care delivery at the network of agencies they fund and administer.

The advantages and challenges of the sweeping law, set to take effect next year, were the subject of a three-day Health and Long-Term Care Summit on June 4-6 in Washington, DC.

Organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, the event included a focus on what one New Jersey participant described as “gearing up to take advantage of Medicaid expansion.”

The new law “means more money will be coming to the state for Medicaid recipients,” said Jacob Toporek, who took part as executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. “We are hopeful of greater funding for federations but we have to be creative to take advantage of some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. We will advocate for the bills they discussed and through JFNA keep track of the implementation process.”

Jonathan Westin, JFNA’s health policy director, said the changes provide an opportunity to create more collaboration among different types of providers. “Jewish providers depend on Medicaid and Medicare most heavily, and there are major changes in Medicare coming down the pike,” he said in a June 13 phone interview. “It could mean such things as a relationship between a Catholic hospital and a Jewish nursing home, and the government is paying providers to create these types of alliances.”

The summit included a meeting at the White House with Melanie Bella, director of the Medicare-Medicaid coordination office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We focused on the population called ‘dual eligibles’ who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid,” said Westin. “They constitute a majority of the folks we are treating in the Jewish community — older Americans of limited economic means. But these are programs that have been sibling rivals who don’t always work well together. We want to strengthen them so they have a more functional relationship and we can realize more economic efficiencies.”

According to Westin, Jewish Americans are the fastest-aging demographic in North America. “We have the lowest reproductive rates and the highest rates of access to long-term health care, so we are living longer and having less children,” he said. “So 15 or 20 years from now we will have more reliance on government dollars, not less. Long-term health-care financing is securing the future of the Jewish people.”

The federations are also pressing for passage of the Behavioral Information Technology Act. It would extend funding for electronic record-keeping to mental health-care providers.

“Whereas there is money under the Affordable Care Act for sharing medical information among medical institutions and doctors, there is not the same provision for sharing information about mental health patients,” said Toporek.

JFNA is also supporting the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which would provide Jewish family service agencies and other groups with minimum payments for community mental health centers. “This will ensure that mental health is part of the health-care continuum,” he said.

Although House Republicans voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Westin said, he believes JFNA “works very well with Republicans on a few key health-care issues.”

He said one area of “great bipartisan cooperation” involves the sharing of patient information among physicians and other providers “in a very confidential way. This is about saving lives.”

“We want federations to understand these issues and how they can build strong networks to compete in this brave new world of health care,” said Westin.

“We are going to be vigilant in ensuring that the rates of reimbursement for nursing homes and Jewish family and children’s agencies and other agencies are up and do not suffer from the expansion.”

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