Insurance and Jewish Ethics

Image: Me, at the LGBTQ March in Oakland in 2016. “Betzelem Elohim” means “In the image of God”  – human life is a reflection of the Divine One. Photo by Linda Burnett.

I’m sitting in my neighborhood pharmacy waiting for a prescription. I’ve been here an hour and I’m likely to remain here for several more. The insurance company thinks the drug my doctor ordered is too pricey. Last Friday I lost the argument and began taking the drug the insurance company wanted. Today my hemotologist said I’m on the wrong drug and we started over.

Confused? Yes, I was too. My doctor’s office is fussing with the insuror now and I’m hanging tight in the pharmacy. They wanted me to go home, and I politely explained that my next dose of blood thinner is due at 9pm and I will continue to wait because I am not going to take one more dose of the Wrong Blasted Drug.

I really was polite, because I know this is not the clerk’s fault.

Mind you, I have “excellent” insurance. My wife is a retired federal employee. This is happening on good insurance. (And how much the moreso for those with minimal insurance? Or no insurance?)

The problem, it seems, is that the correct drug will cut into profits too much. My life was put at risk last Friday because Heaven forbid my survival interfere with Health Net’s shareholders’ profits. I am not overstating this or being hysterical; my doc is angry, too.

I was originally educated as an economist: I have a B.A. and all the coursework for an M.A. in Economics. I am not ignorant about capitalism. But when capitalism and its profit motives take precedence over human life, we have gone off the deep end and out to sea.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Judaism teaches that it is wrong to value profit over human life. I sit here in the pharmacy and meditate on that inconvenient fact.

Update, May 10: I am exhausted, and have gone home to wait. I had no idea I could be this mad at the same time I am completely exhausted. 

Here’s the kicker- I was not the only person waging this particular battle this afternoon at that same pharmacy. Different drug, exactly the same story. 

I am ashamed to say that I was already acquainted in a purely academic sense with this phenomenon before today. What I lacked was the visceral experience of being the person who can’t get an essential drug because my life isn’t worth it to some bean counter.

I understand that we can’t all have everything we want when we want it. What I don’t understand is why someone’s wallet is ahead in line of me and other sick people.

Update, May 11, 6pm: Health Net has finally approved my treatment after an extensive argument. Whew.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “Insurance and Jewish Ethics”

    1. I wish I’d spoken up sooner and louder, because this has been a scourge for a long time, and many have suffered from it. Thanks for your kind words and readership!

  1. And “TrumpCare” hasn’t even been passed yet. G_d help us all. After all you’ve been through to date, it is a shanda that you have to put up with this bs as well.

    1. I agree, heaven have mercy upon us. I understand that there are not unlimited resources for every case, but the idea that human lives are stacked against PROFITS is so very wrong.

  2. It bewilders me that so many of our august lawmakers don’t get that you can’t look at health care the same way you do at car insurance. It makes sense that if I drive a Ferrari (fat chance) and you drive a rust-bucket, I pay higher premiums, because if I make a claim it’s going to cost orders of magnitude more than if you do. If I can’t afford the cost of the insurance, I can make the choice not to own that car. But if you try to apply this model to medicine, you wind up saying that, well, if you can’t afford your share of the cost of your treatment, you can choose to stay sick and then die even though your ailment was treatable. How is this moral? And by the way, how is this not effectively exactly the same thing as the “death panels” that the ACA would supposedly have created? Would people literally rather die than have universal health coverage simply because it would have the government’s fingerprints on it?

    I’ve seen some simply appalling stories in recent days. Babies born with congenital heart defects, which of course constituted a pre-existing condition, so the family pays out of pocket for the numerous surgeries of the first year. Second year, insurance starts paying because the pre-existing condition waiting period is now complete. Child reaches the lifetime maximum for that policy by the end of that year, so they start all over again with a new company and a new waiting period and another year of paying cash, by the end of which they are completely wiped out financially. Are they really supposed to feel grateful that they had the “liberty” to go bankrupt without government interference?

    Sigh. I hope your doctor has successfully beaten HealthNet into submission and that you have the medication you need, because we need you!

    1. Thank you – my doctor’s office has had a partial success, and I now am on the correct drug. It’s partial because they approved only a few days of the drug but the insurance specialist tells me that she’s working on them.

      I keep thinking, what if I could not understand what was going on? What if my doctor didn’t have Gloria to do battle for me? What if I didn’t have “great” insurance?

      So many Americans are in that boat. It’s infuriating.

  3. Very happy to hear your most recent post! I’m glad your finally getting what you should have been getting all along. Sorry you had to fight so hard for it.

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