Ted Kennedy made affordable health care for all Americans the goal of his Senate career and hoped to see that reform achieved in his lifetime. But the political giant's death raises the question of whether a Congressional bipartisan solution can be achieved.
Even though Kennedy's battle cry for health care continued in his absence from the Senate, while he battled cancer, both Democrat and Republican leaders said he was sorely missed and his absence created a huge gap since he was the leader most easily positioned to advance bipartisan negotiations.
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While the Senate's "Liberal Lion's" death could be a colossal blow to a health care reform bill, his memory will likely stay in the forefront of negotiations, and there is already talk of a bill being named after him.
"It was the cause of his life and he fought it all the way to the end of his life," said Kennedy's friend and former press secretary Bob Shrum on ABC's "Good Morning America" today. "Maybe his absence now will cast a long shadow and actually make it happen."
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The corner stone to Kennedy's health care fight was the idea that health care was a basic right, but leading specialists also remember him as a champion of neglected or controversial corners in America's health care system.
"He lent his voice of reason and passion to virtually every major health or health research issue that the country faced in the last 40- plus years. On DNA research, in vitro fertilization, fetal tissue research, and most recently, stem cell research, 'Teddy' was always there," said Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer's Disease Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Doctors in the mental health profession have long hailed his efforts to legislate coverage for mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Mental health has long been a Kennedy family concern, as Ted's older sister Rosemary suffered lived in institutions for most of her life.
Dr. David Fassler, of the University of Vermont, called Kennedy "the driving force" behind last year's passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Yet on Capitol Hill, Kennedy will largely be remembered for his unfinished work on the health care policy.
A longtime chair of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Kennedy called for extending Medicare coverage to all Americans, providing health coverage for the uninsured and modernizing health care systems by using new technologies to cut costs. He also proposed requiring every American to have some form of health insurance, a key point of contention even within his own party.
"I've been able to receive it for myself and my family, just like all of us on the tip of the iceberg. But I want every delegate at this convention to understand, that as long as I can vote, as long as I have a voice in the United States Senate, it's going to be for that Democratic Party platform plank, that provides decent quality health care, North and South, East and West, for all Americans, as a matter of right and not of privilege," a fired-up Kennedy said in 1978 at the midterm Democratic convention in Memphis.