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Miles J. Zaremski Headshot

The Last Shall Be First: Kennedy and Health Care Reform

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Though we knew it was coming quite soon, we still were shocked and saddened by Teddy Kennedy's passing. I represented him before the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases as an amicus (friend of the court) party. Much will be written, but by others, about the good and not so fortunate times in his life, but, in the end, what is left and what he will be remembered by, will leave him in good graces with his Maker.

This post is not a eulogy by any means; it is like a moistened cloth that is wrung out to see what is left over -- a residue if you will. For Kennedy, it will be as those who knew his family and his place in it: being last who became first.

Kennedy's legacy is not only the monumental pieces of legislation over the years, to which his name is attached or affiliated, but also health care reform and his fervent efforts to see it come about while alive. This, of course, won't happen now. And no doubt opponents of what President Obama wants to see enacted (now in the year of Kennedy's death) are inwardly jumping for joy. A stalwart of health care reform is no longer with us, not to mention that there are only 59 Democrats in the Senate -- and we all do not know about Senator Byrd's failing health. But let's turn this state of sadness from the glass is half empty to the glass is half full now. Those who wish to see health care reform come about now have an even more of a reason: Teddy Kennedy the American, and what he symbolized to millions of Americans seeking a better quality of health care!

Juxtaposed to the above is a recent town hall meeting I attended sponsored by a Republican candidate for Senate from Illinois, Mark Kirk (R-10th). A good number of the crowd seemed to salivate on his every word, but I noted some strange behavior. This is oxymoronic, perhaps. A thread running through questions and the temperament of those in attendance was utter inconsistency: that insurance companies have become the Darth Vader of our health care system, yet many don't want a government program to provide us choice of plans and thus increase competition that drives down cost; that we don't want to see reduced or eliminated Medicare, the VA health care programs for our service women and men, health plans for government employees, and SCHIP (the federal program for children's health), yet we don't want the government to come in between us and our doctors for care and treatment.

Has anyone realized that three cases to the Supreme Court since 2000 involved private plans making decisions for our treating doctors that they thought unwise?

And many seemed to applaud efforts to reform our tort laws, because it was said (by one of Rep. Kirk's advisers) that such reforms would save the health care system billions of dollars -- though Congressional Budget Office and government studies on which Rep. Kirk relied on during his meeting for other matters have published reports indicating that the states' medical-legal liability system only adds .58 of one percent to overall health care costs. If those at this town hall meeting are in microcosm to folks around the country, opponents don't know why they are against health care reform that the likes of Teddy Kennedy wants (note, the current tense of the verb, even though he is no longer with us) to come about, now.

So, even in death, the "glass" called health care reform that Teddy Kennedy has left us remains half full. For all of us who survive him now, we must take up the gauntlet. We must ensure that the drive and fierce 'let's get it done', never say never attitude that was his signature on health care reform does not wither on the vine. Remember what Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankee catcher said, "it ain't over 'till it's over".