For almost three months, I have had a sinus infection. Finally I went to my doctor, a nice older guy that my family has seen for years, to see if he could help. I had just changed insurance companies, and did not have my insurance card yet. The doctor’s staff said, “don’t worry, we’ll take you now and deal with the insurance paperwork later.”
I was so happy: a doctor who cares about his patients and doesn’t worry about seeing proof of insurance first.
Unfortunately, the medicine did not work, and I had to go back to the doctor. And this time, things were different. Really different.
The insurance company never sent my paperwork to the doctor, or so my paper file said. The receptionist at the doctor’s office said that they would not treat me if I did not show my insurance card or was willing to pay out of pocket. I refused and asked them to get the insurance company on the phone and sort it out while I wait. They wouldn’t. It was on me to solve this problem, even though I felt like I was going to die.
So I left. Not knowing what to do, I went to the Walgreens down the street and hoped into the Take Care Clinic, a sort of “nurse in a box” operation that does minor medical treatment.
This experience was amazing. Instead of dealing with a receptionist, I simply input my info on a touch screen. After five minutes of waiting, a nurse came out, greeted me by name, and brought me into the room. She asked what my insurance situation was, and I told her the story about my screwball doctor.
She replied, “Oh, this is no problem. I have my computer here. Let’s go on the insurance company website and get all your info.”
Within minutes, she was on the company’s website, printing my card! No haggling, no nagging. After the exam, she put in all my info into her computer, printed my prescription, and said, “OK, your prescription will be filled in about ten minutes.”
This was the best health care I had ever gotten. And the best part: it was so cheap that my insurance company paid for the entire visit. No co-pay.
A few nights later, I got a phone call from a random number. To my surprise, it was the nurse from Walgreens. “Hey Patrick, just wanted to call and see how you are feeling.” In the twenty years my family has been with my old doctor, I never once got a phone call follow up. I was impressed.
I began to think about this in a Jewish context. In a lot of ways, negative experiences with Judaism are like negative experience with doctors. Doctors, like rabbis, are perceived to have the easy life. Nice car, nice house, and a lot of authority to back it all up. Doctors and rabbis have support staff that seem to make everything possible. And if you have a bad experience with a doctor or rabbi, it’s probably your fault in some way, since we assume that either of these professions can do no harm.
And both Judaism and medical care cost a lot. While there’s no such thing as “Jewish insurance”, there is certainly a price to pay for all the kosher food, challah, Jewish daycare, tzedakah, synagogue membership, adult education classes, and other events. And just like the insurance companies and doctor’s staff, there is a bureaucracy in Judaism that keeps some people out, whether it’s the convert getting turned away, the LGBT couple who feels unwelcome, or the Jew of color who doesn’t care about labels like Ashkenazic/Sephardic.
A lot of people want a “top down” solution to the health care dilemma. So is the same with Judaism: looking for a “movement” to unite us all.
Perhaps the solution is neither of these. Perhaps it’s simply a change of mindset. And I can think of a few possible ways.
Less Emphasis on Rabbis. My “doctor” at the clinic was not a doctor at all. But I didn’t care. I needed someone who could tend to my immediate needs, not someone who knew brain surgery. It takes just as long to become a rabbi as a medical doctor. I don’t know about you, but when I need a shoulder to cry on during a funeral or someone to celebrate Shabbat with, I really don’t care what my rabbi thinks about European Jewish Settlements From 1910-1925 or Modern Hebrew Grammer.
Think of the Obvious. A clinic in a pharmacy is a no-brainer. There’s medicine, there’s sick people, get a doctor in there and you’re all set! Sometimes, the most obvious answers are the ones that don’t completely reinvent the wheel: they just put two-and-two together. The best I have seen of this, Jewishly, was an independent minyan that had a lay leader, who happened to live in a local retirement community. Every Shabbat, he picked up other Jewish folks from his community and drove them to “shul”. The retirement home had a great lobby, and he would use it to tutor B’nai Mitzvah kids.
Think Like A Business. I’m the CEO of PunkTorah, so I’m a non-profit guy. But I can see where the profit motive could do great things for the Jewish tradition. Example: Sarah’s Matzah. This Matzah company modeled themselves after Tom’s Shoes, selling “designer” matzah. For every box they sell, they give a box away to a community food bank. It’s capitalism, it’s socialism, it’s Judaism. And it works.
A Little Less Talk, A Little More Action. The talking heads online, on TV and in places of power love to wax poetic about how to “fix” healthcare in this country. And all streams of Judaism are neurotically obsessed with making Judaism relevant for the “new” generation. Perhaps this is a good bottom line: a little less talk, a little more action. PunkTorah started with a YouTube page and is now a non-profit organization with two full time staff members.
What can you start?
This week is all about Kosher Vegans, Tu B’Shvat and a big OneShul announcement!
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Editor’s Note: It’s #FlashbackFriday with this old video from PunkTorah, originally posted March 2009!
The insights I got from watching the really bad Jodie Foster movie Contact, suffering from adult ADD and Zen Buddhism made me better understand Parshat Pekudei.
Patrick Aleph, director of PunkTorah, connects to God through the Shema…in his rock band.
Filmed in Athens, Georgia.