Temple Judea event aims to clarify Health Care Act

When Diane Vanette, a leader of the social justice coalition OneLA and member of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, appeared Oct. 13 on the bimah at Temple Judea in Tarzana and proclaimed, “We are committed to health care for everyone in Los Angeles County,” there was no question that she meant it.

The proof? An audience filled overwhelmingly not with Jews but Hispanics, some of them undocumented, wanting to learn about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Organized by OneLA, the event featured lectures, workshops and PowerPoint presentations that aimed to educate a crowd of Angelenos who have been largely ignorant of how the specifics of the law — otherwise known as ACA or Obamacare — will work. 

According to Miriam Hernandez, manager of the Latino Health Promoters Program at the Providence Center for Community Health Improvement and one of about 300 people to attend the Sunday afternoon event, many people in the Hispanic community are unaware of what ACA means for them. For instance, among the undocumented community, there is the question of whether the mandate affects them.

ACA’s provisions, which have been going into effect on a rolling basis since 2010, include the expansion of Medicaid; the establishment of health insurance exchanges, in which consumers can shop for and compare prices of different insurance providers; and an individual mandate that makes it illegal to not be insured. On Oct. 1, the state- and federally run health insurance marketplaces, including Covered California, opened for business.

Hispanics with vague legal statuses are “very confused” about their health care and are asking themselves, “ ‘If I don’t have documents, is it mandatory to enroll or not?’ ” Hernandez said in an interview. (The answer, she added, is no.)

With all the confusion, part of Hernandez’s job is to learn as much as she can about ACA, so that she can pass on this information to others. This was why she attended the event at Temple Judea.

“For me, it’s very important to know about ACA and to provide this information to our health promoters and for our health promoters to provide this information to our community,” she said. 

The good news is that Hispanics “want to have health care,” she said. “They are worried about their health, and they are more educated than before.” 

The Spanish-only speakers in the audience, who made up the majority, wore headphones to listen to translations as the English-speaking activists and leaders spoke during the first portion of the two-hour event. Many came from the San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and metro Los Angeles areas.

Serving different ethnic and religious communities all across Los Angeles, OneLA (onela-iaf.org) comprises more than 60 congregations and other groups, including Temple Judea, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Isaiah and Leo Baeck Temple. It has helped more than 3,000 individuals living in L.A. County sign up for public health programs under ACA, according to Ellen Israel, a board member at Temple Judea and leader with OneLA.

With more than 2 million people uninsured in L.A. County, OneLA has been working to make sure that Angelenos are aware of their options under ACA and take full advantage. 

“You need to present opportunities for education and opportunities for enrollment,” Israel said.

In a display of the interfaith spirit of the event, Israel co-chaired the event with fellow OneLA activist Carmen Cruz, a parishioner at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Pacoima.

Additional speakers included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Herb Schultz, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment; and Dana Howard, media and public affairs representative at Covered California. 

Yaroslavsky, who has long been a bridge between the politically progressive community and Jewish causes, spoke favorably of the progress that has already been made in the county under Obamacare. He estimated that 300,000 individuals here now have health insurance as a result.

Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson provided spiritual reflections, connecting universal health care to religious values.

“There is no faith tradition that doesn’t support the right of everyone to have health care,” Aaronson said.

Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Leo Baeck and Rabbi Dara Frimmer of Temple Isaiah participated in the event, as well. 

OneLA leaders acknowledged that ACA is far from perfect, and not only because the law excludes undocumented immigrants from coverage. As has been widely reported in the media, the Web sites for the health insurance exchanges are full of glitches and unanswered questions.

But they also said it is a step in the right direction.

“This is just the beginning,” Israel said. “More work needs to be done.”

The work by OneLA to educate people and sign them up for health care will continue through November and up until Dec. 15, which is the final day for people to enroll in insurance through Covered California if they want their new plans to go into effect by Jan. 1. 

On Nov. 3, an event focused on Covered California will take place at Temple Emanuel,  and on Dec. 8, Leo Baeck will host an event to inform people about their health care options.

Letters to the Editor: OneLA, Free Speech, High Holy Days

The health care issue

The recent OneLA Healthcare Summit would have been more relevant if those from the single-payer movement — e.g., Health Care for All (HCA), Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) — were included (“Fighting to Preserve Obamacare,” Sept. 30). The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a euphemism for reform, is generating ever-higher premiums even before it is fully implemented in 2014. AB 52 is also not the answer. The bill is complex and burdensome with countless exclusions and required fiscal information from both the applicant and health insurer. The premium hike trigger is 10 percent (15 percent for individuals). The health insurer is very good with numbers and can “doctor” financial statements to its advantage. AB 52 will not help if the premium rate hike is 9.9 percent (14.9 percent for the individual). If invoked, the bureaucratic delays work for the insurer and against the consumer.

We do not need more layers of bureaucracy now but a concerted, organized effort for single-payer by the faith-based community and everyone else. OneLA needs HCA, PNHP, unions and the general public to effect the changes we all desperately need. Single-payer will force the government to control the exorbitant premiums, hospital expenses, and drug and medical supply prices as is the case in all other democratic nations. 

Dr.  Jerome P. Helman

Why Happiness Matters

I’m an avid reader of Prager’s columns because I so rarely, if ever, agree with his weltanshauung, but this time he hit the nail spot on.

His message about happiness being an inside job was a terrific reminder about choice and responsibility (“For a Happy New Year, Here’s What to Do,” Sept. 30). I even go along with his idea that happiness is a moral obligation because projecting a sense of well-being and joy is in itself infectious.

Occasionally, a column from The Jewish Journal will be cut out and placed in one of the family prayer books. Months later, I rediscover it, so I revisit the gifts of such greats as Yehuda Lev, Marlene Adler Marks and Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. I’ve saved nearly half a dozen of Rob Eshman’s over the years. Now, I am very happy to be able to add this Prager column to the collection.

Josie Levy Martin
Santa Barbara

What Is ‘Free Speech’?

In “Avoid Zero-Sum Thinking” (Sept. 30), David Myers argues that the conviction of Muslim students for their “premeditated … shout[ing] down” of the Israeli ambassador’s speech is “the criminalization of free speech in Irvine.” Suppose a group of students who disagreed with Myers’ political positions entered his office and screamed slogans in his ears while he was typing the piece, thereby preventing him from finishing his article? Suppose these students, by prior agreement among themselves, stood up in one of his classes at UCLA and shouted continuously so that Myers couldn’t carry on teaching? Would Myers defend their “right” to do so on the ground that to prevent them would “criminalize free speech in Westwood”?

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Middle East Relations

Your readers might not be aware that another Holocaust museum was opened under the auspices of a Muslim in Nazareth (“Holocaust Truth Is Told on Muslim Soil,” Sept. 30). Khaled Mahameed opened the museum at his own expense in order to show empathy for the Jewish experience in the hope that it would contribute to the peace process. Can Israelis and American Jews reciprocate by no longer denying the pain of what the Palestinians call the Nakba — the catastrophe — that they felt when Israel became a state, whether or not we concur with their narrative? 

Gene Rothman
Culver City

Horowitz Freedom Center Ad

While reading the High Holy Days issue of The Jewish Journal (Sept. 30), I was appalled to come upon the hate-filled advertisement from The David Horowitz Freedom Center calling President Obama “The Most Anti-Israel President in American History.” Mr. Horowitz may be of this opinion, but for The Journal to include such a tirade, filled with numerous inaccuracies and statements bordering on the slanderous, in the issue between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is unconscionable. During this time of thoughtful reflection, repentance and forgiveness, The Journal should not dignify such hateful rhetoric by including it in its pages. I realize that The Journal seeks to include all opinions, but it has a duty to see that those opinions, when presented as “truth,” are vetted or at least countered.

Barbara Bilson
Santa Monica


An article on Reboot (“10Q Project: Answer Life’s Big Questions Online … Then Reread Next Year,” Sept. 30) gave an incorrect title for Amelia Klein; she is the acting executive director of Reboot.

Fighting to preserve Obamacare

I broke a bone in my foot several weeks ago, and I’ve been limping around in an expensive, ugly boot and shlepping to doctors ever since. A simple slip costs lots of money — happily, not entirely to me. I have health insurance; I’m lucky.

How lucky was especially clear a couple of Sundays ago, when I attended a OneLA Healthcare Summit at Temple Beth Am. On a gorgeous afternoon, some 200 members of more than 20 synagogues, churches and other organizations ignored the lure of weekend fun to gather at Beth Am to do their part in the continuing health care debate that is going on at both a state and federal level. OneLA, a community organizing nonprofit, counts among its member organizations Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Beth Am. Also present were just as many congregants from St. Agnes Church, Precious Blood, St. Paul the Apostle, Transfiguration Church and more. It was a true coalition of various faiths, socioeconomic groups and ethnicities.

If you ever wanted to see a group hug of all Los Angeles, you should have been there.

And they weren’t just talking. They were listening: California Assemblyman Mike Feuer came to speak of his efforts to get immediate regulation in California of the health care industry through a bill known as AB 52. Herb Schultz, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about work to implement the new federal health insurance exchange, which will be in place by 2014 according to federal law. And California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones talked about the state’s need to get control of costs in the health insurance industry.

It can be confusing. Exchanges, assembly bills, regulation. And how about that rant we keep hearing, that “Obamacare is job killing.”

At the conference, four small-business owners from very different walks of life told their stories. Temple Israel member Marilyn Szatmary, who runs a talent agency and for 18 years has always offered her employees health insurance, told of crippling effects of the rising costs of medical coverage, making it impossible for her to expand her business. She described one employee diagnosed with an autoimmune disease who has to spend half her time on the phone dealing with her insurance. “You don’t find out what a policy covers until you get sick,” Szatmary said.

Ronny Bensimon of Beth Am downsized his furniture company during the recession, in part because of the cost of providing insurance: “We have switched to more limited plans and asked employees to contribute more,” he said. Mayra Alvarado of St. Agnes Church runs a child-care center with her husband and three employees. She cannot offer any insurance at all. Her employees go to Tijuana and pay cash for medical care. There were more stories like this, of employers choosing between insurance and hiring staff. Mary Rosenberg, a physical therapist, reduced her practice from three full-time and one half-time physical therapists to just two, and she gets it from both ends — insurance companies that have reduced reimbursement to below the level of 1991, she said, even as she faces rising costs to insure her employees. Yet, she said, “I won’t practice in a setting where I can’t offer quality medical care.”

Who’s killing jobs?

AB 52 “strengthens and expands upon existing federal and state laws for health insurance rate review,” according to the literature handed out at the meeting. Remember last year, for example, when Anthem Blue Cross tried, but failed when faced with public outcry, to raise rates as much as 39 percent for people with individual policies? That kind of move would be regulated by AB 52. In California, we already regulate homeowners insurance, auto insurance and even medical malpractice, Commissioner Jones pointed out. So why not health insurance?

I sat next to Rabbi Laura Geller, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel, who has been a leader among synagogues in the OneLA efforts. She turned to me during the meeting and said, “These issues concern our congregants, but they also concern the synagogue itself. We are a small business insuring our employees, too.”

So, if you’re convinced, as I am, that this is one of the key issues of our time, what can you do?

Here’s where OneLA comes in — you, too, can join in. Community organizing allows individual voices, joined together, to make up a nucleus. Then many such nuclei, all focused on one or more shared issue, mobilize and raise their voices together to speak louder to government representatives. It’s not about rallying in the streets, though that can happen, too. It’s about the hard, incremental work of participating in the process. Perhaps your synagogue is already a part of this effort. Then you can join. And if it’s not, then now — as you make your resolutions for the coming year —is the time to get your community involved.

Here’s the result of the meeting I attended:

• Rabbi Geller of Temple Emanuel and Rabbi Susan Leider of Beth Am will co-host a health care Shabbaton in spring 2012.
• Around that time, St. Agnes Church will hold a Sunday summit, as well.
• Meanwhile, members of OneLA will conduct working meetings with Schultz on the federal exchange, with Jones on the state level, and with Feuer to figure out how to help with passage of AB 52. Right now AB 52 has passed on the California Assembly floor, passed the State Senate appropriations committee, but is stalled in the Senate because it needs seven more votes.
• In addition, Temple Judea in Tarzana will be convening a meeting similar to Beth Am’s on Nov 13.

I spoke with Leider a few days after the meeting to understand better how, as a rabbi at this busy time of preparing for the High Holy Days, she found time to do this work as well. She said that since she started in this arena in 2008, “It has transformed my rabbinate.” She told me of getting out “from behind the computer and out into the community,” and that in talking to her congregants she now knows more than ever to ask, “What’s keeping you up at night?”

“When you spend time getting to know each other,” Leider explained, “you figure out where the self-interest is.” And that’s the point of all this. Affordable health care is not someone else’s issue, it’s ours. If our employers can’t afford to pay for the rising cost of health insurance, how can we?

Leider told me a story, which she heard at one of the first training sessions she attended for this work: A group of people see baskets of babies floating down a river, and they are horrified, so they grab each baby and nurture and raise it as if it were their own. (Moses, perhaps?) Still, the babies keep coming. So, one day someone says, “While you take care of these babies, I’m going up the river to see why this is happening and try to solve that problem.”

And that’s what these hundreds of people involved with OneLA are doing now. They’re walking up the river to work on the source of the problem. So the babies will be able to stay with their mothers. So we can all afford to go to doctors. So we won’t be staying up so many nights worrying.

Shanah tovah. May this be a year of good health and caring and affordable health care when you need it.

OneLA tackles local health care reform

OneLA, a community-organizing group, launched an effort to implement changes locally in access to health care during a public event at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills on Jan. 30.

The event, which included appearances by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of health services for Los Angeles County, focused on four main goals: helping small businesses provide health insurance to employees, assisting constituents in understanding the many avenues of health care in L.A. County, capping rising insurance rates and reducing the number of claims that are denied.

OneLA hopes to address these concerns on a local and statewide level.

“We’re working in California,” said Diane Vanette, a volunteer leader for OneLA who co-hosted the event. “We don’t have much to do with federal” health care reform.

The effort to address concerns about health care began approximately one year ago, when a handful of congregants at Temple Emanuel launched conversations about their problems getting the coverage they needed. The issue was identified as an area of focus for temple leadership in part because of the difficulty that the temple, a small business, has had in finding funds to cover all their employees.

Already a member of OneLA, which brings together local dues-paying organizations including synagogues, churches, schools and unions to effect change, Temple Emanuel reached out to other organizations in the group and found signs of how much the issue of health care affects a broad swath of the community.

For the past year, leaders from various organizations associated with OneLA have worked together to come up with the four main goals addressed at the event and to strategize ways to reach those goals.

Groups came from Temple Beth Am; Our Lady Queen of Angels, La Placita; St. Agnes; and Immanuel Presbyterian, to name a few, and constituents told personal stories about their difficulties obtaining adequate health care.

One young woman described the road her parents faced as they went from paying $80 for medical visits to being asked to pay more than $600 after applying for Medicaid. Another told of receiving a $27,000 bill for in-patient treatment after bringing her daughter home early from surgery, thinking that she would be saving money by not keeping her in the hospital overnight.

Throughout the event, leaders from OneLA committed to taking specific action to help effect change in the way health care is accessed by Los Angeles County residents, and in turn asked for the participation of the officials present.

For instance, in order to address the difficulty many community members have in navigating the county’s complex health care options, OneLA leadership committed to organizing small groups of volunteers who would learn about the process of acquiring health care and teach others in their community.

They then pledged to hold a meeting in the spring to present ideas for reform, which Katz agreed to attend.

OneLA also pledged to outline the ways in which they would like to see small businesses assisted in providing coverage to their employees, as California’s legislature works to implement health care exchanges per the terms of the federal health care reform act enacted last year. They promised to meet with small businesses to find out what they need.

Representatives from the organization then stated that they would hold a small-business summit in six months to discuss the outcome of those meetings.

Neither Feuer nor Jones agreed to attend either meeting. When asked, Feuer said he would “like very much” to go to the meeting with small businesses. Jones said he would “make every effort” to be there as well. Jones did, however, assign a senior staff member to work with OneLA in achieving their goal of fewer claims being denied.

“She will be working” with OneLA, he said.

For his part, Feuer has introduced a bill, AB52 — independent of the work being done by OneLA — which would require insurance companies to get approval from the state’s Department of Managed Health Care and the Department of Insurance prior to raising rates.

He added that while legislation may come out of the OneLA effort in the long term, the more immediate need is to “galvanize the community” in support of access to health care.

The next steps for OneLA, Vanette said, will be to follow up with elected officials on the commitments they made at the Jan. 30 event and in prior discussions, and to begin to arrange meetings with community members and small businesses.