Sen. Edward Kennedy in Major Democratic Party Address Calls for Expansion of Medicare to All U.S. Residents
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wednesday delivered what was "billed as a major address on his party's future," advocating what he called a progressive agenda that includes expanding Medicare "over the next decade to cover every citizen" from birth to death, the Washington Post reports.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Kennedy said the Democratic Party needs to better articulate its central priorities, including support for middle- and low-income U.S. residents (Babington, Washington Post, 1/13). Kennedy said Democrats need to "do a better job of looking within ourselves and speaking out for the principles we believe in" (Baldor, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/13).
Kennedy noted that President Bush's win over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is not even "a miniature mandate for reactionary measures" such as Social Security reform and "packing the federal courts with reactionary judges." Kennedy also said that the government should "require all employers to give employees at least seven days of paid sick leave a year" (Washington Post, 1/13). Kennedy indicated that he would be introducing the sick leave bill in the near future, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 1/12).
According to the Post, Kennedy's speech -- in which he also advocated for continued support of abortion rights -- puts him "at odds with centrist Democrats who want the party to shed some of its liberal traditions" (Washington Post, 1/13). Kennedy said, "In the face of [Republican] tactics, we cannot move our party or our nation forward under pale colors and timid voices. We cannot become Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again and deserve to lose. As I have said on other occasions, the last thing this country needs is two Republican parties."
According to the New York Times, Kennedy's remarks "sounded like an early speech by someone working out the themes for a race for president" (Nagourney, New York Times, 1/13).
Kennedy said he would phase in his expanded Medicare program, called "Medicare for All," by age, beginning with those between ages 55 and 64. "The first stage of the phase-in should also guarantee good health care to every young child," Kennedy noted. The expansion in coverage would be paid for by a combination of payroll taxes, general government revenue and savings gained from technological advances, including "moving to electronic medical records for all Americans," Kennedy said (Washington Post, 1/13).
The payroll taxes, which would include a 1.7% charge for employees and a 7% fee for employers, would pay for 85% of the expansion's cost, Kennedy said. The plan would allow residents to choose whether to enroll in Medicare or pay a premium to join any of the private plans available in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.
Kennedy said the expansion would save a projected $380 billion annually through reductions in administrative costs and the use of health IT. However, he noted, "The battle to achieve Medicare for All will not be easy. Powerful interests will strongly oppose it because they profit immensely from the status quo" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/13).
He said that Republicans who refer to the idea as "socialized medicine" were "a generation out of date," adding, "It's no secret that America is still dearly in love with Medicare. Administrative costs are low. Patient satisfaction is high. Unlike with many private insurers, they can still choose their doctor and their hospital" (Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, 1/13).
Kennedy in his speech mentioned "values" 16 times and said, "Our new progressive vision must ... speak more directly to the issues of deep conscience in the policy positions we take" (Washington Post, 1/13). Kennedy noted that he was particularly concerned with "the contentious and difficult issue of abortion," apparently referring to some Democrats who have said the party should re-evaluate its position on the issue, according to the New York Times.
"In this land that cherishes individual rights and liberties, a woman has the constitutional right to make her own reproductive decisions, and I support that right wholeheartedly," he said. Kennedy added, "But there is a way America can find common ground on this issue. Surely, we can all agree that abortion should be rare, and that we should do all we can to help women avoid the need to face that decision" (New York Times, 1/13).