Mourning a Health Care Champion

Ted Kennedy never stopped fighting to make health care in this nation what it already was in his eyes: a universal, fundamental right of all Americans.

Posted by Brooke Jarvis at Aug 26, 2009 01:40 PM |
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Mourning a Health Care Champion

Ted Kennedy speaking about health care to the Montgomery County Democratic Committee on April 3, 2008.

Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away this morning after months of fighting a malignant brain tumor, was a leading figure in the movement to reform our nation's health care system.

He wrote a testimonial, published this week, about what a lifetime's experiences with that system—as patient, parent, and legislator—had taught him.

As a cancer patient, Kennedy recognized the rare privilege of his congressional health insurance, in a country where millions go uncovered: "I am resolved to see to it this year that we create a system to ensure that someday, when there is a cure for the disease I now have, no American who needs it will be denied it," he wrote.

As the parent of a child with bone cancer, he watched the mounting costs of treatment terrify other parents in his position: "Our family had the necessary resources as well as excellent insurance coverage," he wrote. "But other heartbroken parents pleaded with the doctors: What chance does my child have if I can only afford half of the prescribed treatments? Or two thirds? I've sold everything. I've mortgaged as much as possible. No parent should suffer that torment. Not in this country. Not in the richest country in the world."

And, as a legislator, he dedicated himself to making quality health care accessible to all: "This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver—to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, 'that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American...will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege.' For four decades I have carried this cause—from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country," he wrote in the essay. "It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me—and more urgency—than ever before. But it's always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years."

As we track legislation through the rounds of Congressional negotiation, as special interests try to distract us with distorted information, as we debate the relative merits of co-ops, public exchanges, and government plans, Senator Kennedy's dedication should remind us what we're doing here in the first place. This is not a dry or technical discussion reserved for policy wonks, but a moral decision that will determine quality of life for all, and life or death for many. It's about fulfilling our personal needs as well as affirming our commitment to a fair, livable society. It is, as Kennedy believed, a cause worthy of dedicating your life to.


In this 2008 video, Ted Kennedy speaks about the source of his personal motivation to reform American health care.

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