Saperstein: It is our obligation to stand here today and say that our nation’s future, our nation’s well being, depends on the physical and mental well being of America’s youth.
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Washington D.C. August 2, 2007 – Speaking today with Senators Kennedy, Casey and Salazar, as well as Rev. Bill Calhoun and Pastor Derrick Harkins, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism spoke to the moral obligations of children’s health care. The full text of the prepared statement follows:
It is no surprise that the first spontaneous prayer ever uttered in the Torah was a prayer for healing. According to the biblical narrative, Moses’ sister Miriam was stricken with leprosy and Moses, upon hearing the news cried out the words Eil Na R’fah Na Lah, God, please heal her (Numbers, 12:13).
Moses’ sense of urgency is present today on Capitol Hill as Congress votes to reauthorize SCHIP. I join with other faith leaders and Senators here today, and plead on behalf of those too young and too poor to plead on their own behalf. O God, pray help us bring healing to these, our children, your children.
For today, the faith community has learned to make God’s work our own. So we turn our eyes not to the Holy Mountain, but to Capitol Hill. It simply cannot be that we do not answer the unspoken prayers of the six million children who, though eligible, are not enrolled in SCHIP and Medicaid. It simply cannot be that we harden our hearts against healing a health care system wrought with economic inequality, where children lack access to vital care.
There are those who say that to embrace these children is to set a dangerous precedent: This brings us down the road to a government run health system; or: is these 3.2 million children why not all children or all uninsured? But what is more dangerous than neglecting our nation’s youth? In the next few weeks, millions of children will be heading back to school. It is our responsibility to ensure that a lack of health care does not impede their learning. Statistically, children without insurance miss more days of school, get poorer grades, and are held back more often than children with insurance. In the Talmud we learn in the “Ethics of Our Fathers” that without physical sustenance there can be no learning (3:21). Yet in that same passage we learn that without learning there can be no physical sustenance. It is our obligation to stand here today and say that our nation’s future, our nation’s well being, depends on the physical and mental well being of America’s youth.
Nine million children uninsured and six million eligible for aid and still not insured. Perhaps it would be easier to answer the cries if there were only one such child – say, a three year-old stricken by leukemia, or a five year-old with a cleft palate, easier also because stories are more powerful than statistics. So I beg of you: Think not of the numerical magnitudes; think of these children one by one, one and then another and then another still, innocence upon innocence, need upon need. I can think of no vote that says more about who we are, about what we believe, than the vote on whether to say “yes” or to say “no” to each one of these children. I plead with you: Let us embrace and not abandon them when we have the resources to do so much more.
The Children’s Health Insurance program has proven to be one of America’s greatest successes. That makes the plight of the millions falling through the cracks that much more a tragedy. The current Senate bill calls for a $35 billion investment in SCHIP to maintain the health care of 6.6 million children already insured and cover an additional 3.2 million children. Increased SCHIP funding would help raise awareness in low-income communities about SCHIP and help finance mental and dental services so that children can go to the doctor for regular check-ups and wellness visits. Our children cannot wait until they are desperately ill to get care.
Every member of Congress knows what needs to be done. If we fail America’s children this year, it is the failure of our moral vision and political will. Unwavering in this pursuit, we will accept no less from Congress than to begin by covering half of those now falling through the cracks. The health of our children, the integrity of our national conscience, and the future of our nation depend on it.