Faith leader says faith calls us to support health care public option

Much of us have spent the last year wanting to get back to “normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in unimaginable ways. The virus has claimed more than 500,000 lives in the U.S. alone. Shutdowns and social distancing have led to serious financial and social hardships for many. It makes sense that so many of us want to return to life like it was pre-COVID.

I, however, do not want to get back to normal — at least not the old normal.

Well before the pandemic started, the old normal was full of challenges and insecurity for thousands of our family, friends, and neighbors here in Nevada. This also was true in regards to health care. Prior to the pandemic, one in seven Nevadans was uninsured. Prior to the pandemic, thousands of Nevadans who slipped through healthcare coverage cracks went without insurance because they had to choose housing, transportation, and other necessities over their health and the health of their families. All of this has only been made worse during the pandemic.

As a rabbi, this is deeply concerning. In the Jewish tradition, we are required to do what is known as Bikur Cholim, “visiting the sick.” The Mishnah, the second century collection of Jewish law, teaches that there are some things that are good beyond measure, including visiting the sick. We are commanded to take care of those in our community who are in need. This is the value we have. Each sabbath, we read the names of those in our community who need healing. We pray for them, we think of them, we care for them, both in our minds and hearts with sacred words, and with our bodies, visiting them, honoring them, healing them. It is our duty, our obligation. It is a mitzvah.

The high value placed on care for the sick can also be seen in what the Talmud outlines as necessary for a just society. Talmud Sanhedrin warns us that one should not live in a city lacking in certain things. Among them: a court of law; a school; charity; a synagogue; and a doctor. If we are living in a place without access to healthcare, it is as perilous as one without justice, without education, without charity, or without faith.

The ethics and traditions of my faith require that a community must provide health care for its inhabitants. Where it is not found, we must provide it; where it is denied, we must demand it. As we come out of the pandemic, we must build a new normal with increased access to affordable healthcare.

This is why I support SB420. This bill, recently introduced in the Legislature, would create a public option for affordable and accessible health care coverage in our state. By leveraging the state’s purchasing power in order to negotiate lower prices for care from providers and for prescription drugs, a public option would save Nevada families on their premiums and out-of-pocket costs. A public option would also provide an affordable coverage option for those who would otherwise lose coverage due to loss of employment and also support small businesses currently unable to afford healthcare premiums for their employees.

Ultimately, a public option will save lives and help build a healthier Nevada. I believe that that is something that all people of faith and goodwill can get behind as we recover from a global pandemic. SB420 will give more people access to health care. It will improve and save countless lives. How wonderful it would be if our new normal prioritized the saving of lives. As it is written in the Talmud, “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.”  

Rabbi Benjamin Zober is a leader with Faith In Action Nevada, a statewide nonpartisan organization that organizes communities of faith and advocates for racial justice, economic justice, and an inclusive democracy.