"It's a great national service when we get legislators that love to legislate, not because we need more laws or bills, but how to accomplish certain public purposes, by working effectively with others, and on a bipartisan basis, and to stay with it," said Kennedy's longtime friend John Culver.
"He's always seen politics as the way grease is supplied to our system to make it work," said former Boston Globe reporter Tom Oliphant.
For Kennedy, President Obama's ascension to the White House was an important step toward realizing his goal of health care reform. Many say Kennedy's views were closely aligned to those of Obama's.
"This is the cause of my life," Kennedy said at an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 while endorsing then-candidate Obama. He spoke of "new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American -- North, South, East, West, young, old -- will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."
Kennedy, a longtime chair of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called for extending Medicare coverage to all Americans, medical coverage for the uninsured and modernizing health care systems by using new technologies to cut costs. He also proposed to implement a rule that would require every American to have some form of health insurance, a point which became one of the key points of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
"We'll negotiate with insurance companies to keep premiums and co-pays low and help you with your premiums if you can't afford them," Kennedy wrote in a column published in the Boston Globe in June to push support for his plan. "We're also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit -- so that option will be available, too."
Kennedy first called for a national health care system in 1966, when he proposed an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act.
Kennedy, along with other senators, sponsored the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996.
In 1997, he rallied for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) under which uninsured children from low-income families could get insurance.
Kennedy sponsored the Family Opportunity Act of 2006, allowing states to expand Medicaid coverage to children with special needs. That same year, he voted for expanding the enrollment period for Medicare, and would later support a bill that required pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prescription drug prices covered under the same plan.