Area pols and agencies weigh in on health-care bill

Area pols and agencies weigh in on health-care bill

Democratic members of Congress and Jewish organizations around the region lauded the health-care bill signed into law earlier this week, even as Republicans prepared to launch legal challenges.

After watching President Obama sign the legislation into law on Tuesday morning, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), one of the bill’s sponsors, told this paper that the legislation is “a big step forward.”

“The benefits are just outstanding,” he said.

The bill, he said, guarantees that no one can be denied health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He also cited tax credits to 116,000 families and 15,200 small businesses in his district.

The congressman summed up the bill in a single phrase: “Health security.”

“Those left out [of coverage] with preconditions will no longer be denied,” he said. “That’s a huge change.”

Pascrell lashed out at the bill’s critics who have repeatedly warned that the legislation would lead to health-care rationing or that those satisfied with their current coverage would be forced to abandon it.

“Existing plans are grandfathered under this bill,” he said. “I am tired of the lies and misrepresentations and prejudicial statements.”

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), a critic of the bill who was one of 212 to vote against it in Sunday’s House vote, did not return calls or e-mail requests for comment. A statement on his Website blasted the health bill.

“While I appreciate the efforts of the majority to reform our health-care system, it is hard to underestimate what a grave mistake it would be to enact this bill,” he said in the statement. “It would fundamentally alter our citizens’ relationship with their government. It would seriously jeopardize our nation’s long-term prosperity. It would dampen the vitality of our nation’s health-care innovators. It would restrict choice and access to medical care for millions of our nation’s elderly and poor. It would tax hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy in the midst of one of the most serious economic downturns in our nation’s history. And for all this – for all of these thousands of pages and hundreds of new bureaus, boards, and bureaucracies – it won’t make America any healthier.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), one of 219 “yes” votes from the House, said in a statement sent to this paper, “This legislation will make a marked improvement in the lives of my constituents and will be a great step forward beyond the present system now causing so much cost, heartache, and tragedy to so many throughout my congressional district, New Jersey, and our entire country.”

The bill also earned praise from area Jewish organizations, including Jewish Family Services, which frequently serve clients without any insurance coverage.

“We work with a lot of people who have no insurance whatsoever,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck. “The fact that more people will be able to be insured and get the services they need is a great opportunity.”

The bill will have a large impact on people who lost their jobs during the economic crisis and are still struggling to make ends meet, as well as those working for small businesses that had begun to stop paying for their employees’ health care, Fedder said.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but I think it’s a great beginning,” said Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFS of North Jersey in Wayne.

Kaufman has seen many clients who have no insurance and no steady income put off doctor’s visits to avoid racking up bills. This legislation, she said, would provide them with the coverage they need. She also praised the bill’s inclusion of children up to age 26 on their parents’ policies as helpful, since many recent college graduates are struggling to find work.

“There are so many people out there who can’t get medical care because they don’t have coverage and can now get that kind of care,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, spiritual leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the new legislation the best possible for now.

“I don’t think it answers all of the issues facing us, but it’s an improvement,” he said. “To me, we can’t aim for perfection. We have to always try to look for the best possible solution. This health-care bill is the best possible that could be achieved at this moment in time.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents in Trenton the Garden State’s 12 federations, praised the bill’s inclusion of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act.

“From that perspective,” Toporek said, the bill is “a major plus for the Jewish community.”

The CLASS Act is a provision that would create a voluntary disability insurance program for adults with long-term needs and alleviate pressure on the Medicaid program. According to the legislation, eligible enrollees who need assistance performing common daily activities – such as dressing, bathing, and eating – would receive cash benefits to pay for support services in a community setting. The Jewish Federations of North America had lobbied for the act’s inclusion in the health bill.

“How better to practice tikkun olam than by providing these people who are in need with the ability to get mended?” Toporek said.

“Clearly it pleases all of us as professionals that more people will be covered under health-care coverage,” said Charles Berkowitz, executive vice president of The Jewish Home at Rockleigh. “There are people who will be able to get great coverage now that couldn’t before.”

For more about the bill see Groups pushed health reform, but some keeping quiet on bill.

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