Agudath Israel Returns to White House for Further Health Care Talks

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agudah-at-white-houseA delegation of Agudath Israel of America officials and community activists met at the White House with top staff of the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) last Wednesday to discuss the impact of federal health care legislation and regulations on seriously ill and elderly patients. The meeting was a follow-up to earlier discussions between Administration officials and Agudath Israel representatives, which covered a wide range of foreign and domestic issues, including health care. During those discussions, Mark Zuckerman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the DPC, heard concerns regarding patient treatment, especially those relating to end-of-life situations, and immediately invited the group back for a more in depth meeting with the Administration’s health care team.

“With the advance of medical technology, the potentially problematic intersection between religious/moral imperatives and health care reform has come more sharply into focus,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director, stated in introductory remarks. Meaningful reform must take into account this changing landscape and federal law and regulation must find ways to accommodate the ethical choices of patients and their families, he pointed out.

A major topic of conversation at the West Wing meeting was the “cost versus quality of care” issue. Specific concerns were offered by Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, Agudath Israel’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, the group’s Vice President for Community Affairs — both of whom are deeply involved in state and local health care policy and are spearheading the Chayim Aruchim initiative (Agudah’s Center for Culturally Sensitive End of Life Advocacy and Counseling). They pointed to discharge, reimbursement and other issues that have dramatically and adversely affected patient care, health and mortality. Barry Ray, CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Maryland, offered the unique and practical perspective of an operator of health care facilities who is sometimes caught between the bureaucracy he must contend with and his absolute commitment to providing quality care.

In the most poignant part of the discussion, Dr. Yashar Hirshaut, the esteemed New York oncologist, emphasized the sea change in attitude and perspective that has occurred in medical circles over time, particularly in regard to the seriously ill and elderly patient. Recounting numerous patient cases and personal encounters with health care professionals, he noted a distinct trend that has essentially moved decision-making away from patient and family and toward health care personnel and facilities. Dr. Hirshaut explained that this reality within the medical community — the result of either government regulation or personal ideology — emphasizes palliative care over treatment, and often sanctions denying treatment — even the provision of food and water — to the elderly and infirm, thereby hastening their demise.

At the conclusion of the various presentations, Mr. Zuckerman remarked that the meeting was exactly what he “had hoped for” in providing the information and insight that he needed to better understand and try to address Agudath Israel’s concerns. He stated his commitment to continue the dialogue and begin with specific issues where the consequences were not only unintended but were the exact opposite than intended, and then build upon that success.

Also participating in the meeting were: Tim Gronniger, Senior Policy Advisor for Health Care; Carole Johnson, Senior Advisor from the Department of Health and Human Services; Rabbi Labish Becker, Agudath Israel’s Executive Director and Rabbi Mordechai Biser, Agudath Israel’s General Counsel.

“It is gratifying to see such a high degree of understanding and responsiveness on the part of the White House to our concerns,” said Rabbi Cohen. “We are dealing with a phenomenon that has many causes and has evolved over decades. There is a clear commitment — a true spirit of cooperation — on both sides to keep this effort moving in a positive direction and attempt to address these most compelling concerns through the health care reform process.”

{Noam Newscenter}


  1. Also they(the White House) may Sugar Coat

    issues due to the elections, having many

    suffer the consequences subsequent to 11/2012.

    May he NOT GET 4 more years.

  2. Bravo to Rabbi Lefkowitz and Agudas Israel for taking on the tough chalanges and dealing with such difficult risky issues, and with risky people. The deserve the support and backing from all of us.

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