Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — Health Care Champion — Dies
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy had a hand in nearly every piece of health care legislation that moved through Congress during his eight-term Senate tenure. He died Tuesday night of brain cancer at age 77.
NPR: "Kennedy had hoped to be at the center of this year's debate over a landmark bill remaking the American health care system. Even after suffering a seizure on Inauguration Day, he again returned to work. He took part in early legislative skirmishes on behalf of the new president - whose nomination for the White House he had given a boost with an early endorsement. But as his illness advanced, Kennedy was unable to take the gavel when the Senate committee he chaired took up the bill in June" (Elving and Naylor, 8/26).
The Boston Globe recounts that Kennedy's health care work was marked by his return to the Senate in December 1969 after his car accident at Chappaquiddick, which killed a former aide to his brother Robert. In that year he "began a long campaign 'to move now to establish a comprehensive national health care insurance program.'"
The Globe also recounts Kennedy's differences with President Carter over health care policy: "The ideological divide between the two was profound. Senator Kennedy thought Carter's health care programs were timid."
Last summer, "(d)espite his illness, Senator Kennedy made a forceful appearance at the Democratic convention in Denver, exhorting his party to victory and declaring that the fight for universal health insurance had been 'the cause of my life.' He pursued that cause vigorously, even as his health declined; when members of Obama's administration questioned the president's decision to spend so much political capital on the seemingly intractable issue, Obama reportedly replied, 'I promised Teddy'" (Nolan, 8/26).
The New York Times: "While Mr. Kennedy had been physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence had been deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America's health care system in decades. He built federal support for community health care centers, increased cancer research financing and helped create the Meals on Wheels program. He was a major proponent of a health and nutrition program for pregnant women and infants." He was among then-President Bill Clinton's and Hillary Clinton's "strongest allies in their failed 1994 effort to enact national health insurance, a measure the senator had been pushing, in one form or another, since 1969." In 1997, he teamed up with Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah to help "enact a landmark health care program for children in low-income families, a program now known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-Chip." He also "helped win enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, one of the largest expansions of government health aid ever" (Broder, 8/26).
The Washington Post: "His legislation resulted in access to health care for millions of people and funded cures for diseases that afflicted people around the world. He was a longtime advocate for universal health care and was instrumental in promoting biomedical research, as well as AIDS research and treatment." For example, he was "a leader in the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum Bill" which provided employees with the ability to keep health insurance after leaving a job.
"Health care reform is 'a defining issue for our society,' Kennedy told fellow senators during a 1994 debate. 'Do we really care about our fellow citizens?' It was a question he asked countless times, in one form or another, during his long Senate career. He faced opposition from most Republicans -- and more than a few Democrats -- who insisted that Kennedy's proposals for universal health care amounted to socialized medicine that would lead to bureaucratic sclerosis and budget-breaking costs and inefficiencies."
He first became involved in health care issues in 1966 "after he became aware of the difficulties facing Boston public-housing residents who had to rely on the city's teaching hospitals. Although they lived only four miles from the hospitals, it took them up to five hours to get there and back on buses and subways, including the time it took to wait in an emergency room" (Holley, 8/26).
The Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Kennedy died with one of his lifelong goals, universal health care, tantalizingly within reach yet struggling on Capitol Hill. Some advocates have said his absence has hurt the chances for legislation, and hope Mr. Kennedy's passing will give new momentum and emotional force to his favored cause. Mr. Kennedy's final months were marked by the poignancy of a man who had fought his whole career for universal health care facing his last window of opportunity to accomplish it, even while engaging in his own devastating health battle" (Bendavid, 8/26).
USA Today: "Congress will make Kennedy's unfulfilled goal his legacy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted in a statement early today. 'Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration'" (Kiely, 8/26).
President Obama called Kennedy "the greatest senator of our time," The Associated Press reports. Kennedy was key in getting Obama elected, Obama also said. (Kesten, 8/26).