On the eve of passing a national health-care reform bill, I’ve been thinking about Senator Edward Kennedy. He would no doubt have helped make the argument that when you get this close, there are some things more important than reelection. Speaker Pelosi, who often cites Senator Kennedy’s call for comprehensive health care, made that case recently on ABC’s This Week when she said “Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. We’re here to do the job for the American people.”
Back in the good old days after the Senate passed its bill and before the Democrats lost their filibuster-resistant majority, negotiators had planned to name the legislation for Ted Kennedy and Michigan Congressman John D. Dingell, Jr., the senior House Democrat who had been advocating universal coverage since he arrived in 1955. That won’t happen; there are just too many other matters to worry about now.
Senator Kennedy’s son, Patrick Kennedy, when asked what his Dad would say: “This was never for him,” he said. “The greatest honor for him would be getting more people covered, any which way or how.”
In a recent article written by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and published in Newsweek, he explains why he fought to make health care available for every mother or father who hears a sick child cry in the night.
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. Even then, the pathology report showed that some of the cancer cells were very aggressive. There were only a few long-shot options to stop it from spreading further. I decided his best chance for survival was a clinical trial involving massive doses of chemotherapy. Every three weeks, at Children’s Hospital Boston, he had to lie still for six hours while the fluid dripped into his arm. I remember watching and praying for him, all the while knowing how sick he would be for days afterward.
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 we were 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. 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.