A Tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy, Healthcare Champion

August 26, 2009

As we remember the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s Liberal Lion, I wanted to link once again to an essay Kennedy wrote this summer on the need for universal, affordable health care coverage.

To review Kennedy’s political career is to review much of this country’s history of health care reform efforts. In 1966, after visiting the Columbia Point Neighborhood Health Center in Boston — a pilot project providing health services to low-income families — Kennedy authored legislation establishing a network of community health centers.

In 1970, he introduced a bill calling for universal coverage. Over the next four decades, he never ceased in his efforts to broker an agreement that would do the most good for the greatest number of people.

“This is the cause of my life,” wrote Kennedy.

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. 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.

In December, Kennedy spoke at a Harvard ceremony. “We know the future will outlast all of us,” he said, “but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.”

Focusing our efforts on the passage of a strong health care reform bill is one way we can help build that future.

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