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Ted Kennedy: Health Care Reform Is the "Cause of My Life"

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[Q]uality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to.

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. 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.

- Ted Kennedy Speaks Out on Health-Care Reform in Newsweek

Ted Kennedy knew the importance of health care reform. While I frequently doubted some of his means (closed-door negotiations, invitations to insurance companies to be part of the "solution," etc.), I never doubted that he did want some kind of reform that would eventually lead to every American receiving affordable health care. In 1973, when Kennedy was first fighting in the Senate for universal coverage, he learned that his 12-year-old son, Teddy, had bone cancer.

His son (along with some other children) underwent experimental treatment at Children's Hospital Boston. When the trial was deemed a success and terminated, only families with insurance coverage could continue to receive the treatments. Kennedy described witnessing uninsured families beg the doctors for mercy.

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.

Many politicians (especially Democrats) will claim today to have respected Kennedy, but if they want to really pay tribute to the man, they should stop watering down health care reform. Democrats should end this silly debate over insurance co-operatives and securing 80 votes in the Senate (instead of the 51 they actually need,) and just get Americans affordable health care right now. It's what Ted would have wanted. After all, it was the cause of his life.

Crossposted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.