RIP: The Senate’s Liberal Lion and Healthcare Reform Champion

ted-kennedy-dies-001Ted Kennedy’s passing deprives President Obama of a critical political ally in his efforts to reform healthcare.  In his role as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, Kennedy fought tirelessly for decades to reform a system that today deprives 47 million Americans of affordable, accessible healthcare coverage.

In The Guardian, Michael Tomasky notes that, “The heavens somehow conspired to make this Kennedy death, however expected it might have been, nearly as heartbreaking as those of his vigorous younger brothers.  It’s not just that the great cause of the last 40 years of his life, reforming America’s healthcare system, sits at a perilous juncture, although it certainly is that, in part.  But the tragic irony of the timing is even greater, because we see in the very healthcare debate that so needed his input the precarious state of the institution to which he devoted his life, and which he shaped and influenced more than probably any other senator in history.”

Kennedy, writing in the July 27, 2009, Newsweek, declared that healthcare reform is “the cause of my life”. “In 1973, when I was first fighting in the Senate for universal coverage, we learned that my 12-year-old son Teddy had bone cancer.  He had to have his right leg amputated above the knee.  The pathology report showed that some of the cancer cells were very aggressive.  I decided his best chance for survival was a clinical trial involving massive doses of chemotherapy,” according to Kennedy.

“During those many hours at the hospital, I came to know other parents whose children had been stricken with the same deadly disease.  We all hoped that our child’s life would be saved by this experimental treatment.  Because this was part of a clinical trial, none of us paid for it.  Then the trial was declared a success and terminated before some patients had completed their treatments.  That meant families had to have insurance to cover the rest or pay for them out of pocket.  Our family had the necessary resources as well as excellent insurance coverage.”

Other heartbroken parents were not able to pay for the continued treatment and that made Kennedy realize that “No parent should suffer that torment.  Not in this country.  Not in the richest country in the world.”  So passionate was Kennedy that Americans have access to healthcare that he often paid for others’ treatment out of his own pocket when they could not afford it.

Kennedy made healthcare reform his lifelong passion, vowing “We will end the disgrace of America as the only major industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all of its people.”

Wherever you stand on the issue, there is no doubt that Kennedy was a great senator, a statesman that Republicans and Democrats respected and emulated.  He did not live to see the healthcare bill passed, but perhaps his death will quell partisan dissension and bring us closer to a solution.

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