Sen. Kennedy Working To Build Support for Major Health Care Effort
The office of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has begun to hold a series of meetings with a number of health care experts to "begin laying the groundwork for a new attempt to provide universal health care," the Boston Globe reports.
According to the Globe, the "discussions signal that Kennedy, who instructed aides to begin holding the meetings while he is in Massachusetts undergoing treatment for brain cancer, intends to work vigorously to build bipartisan support for a major health care initiative when he returns to Washington in the fall."
Earlier this year, Kennedy recruited John McDonough, executive director of Health Care for All in Massachusetts, to lead the effort, and Kennedy aides assembled a number of health care experts in the state to develop a national health care proposal, possibly based in part on the recently enacted state health insurance law.
Kennedy aides have held two meetings to date, one with health care advocacy groups and one with physician groups, with eight more scheduled for this month.
Participants in the meetings said that Kennedy believes there is a need to address major health care reform legislation early in the term of the next president. Staff members in the Senate office of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) have participated in the discussions.
"If Obama is elected, Kennedy's effort to identify points of agreement among senators could smooth the way for the new administration to press ahead on universal health care," the Globe reports.
Participants in the meetings also said that the discussions in part seek to educate Senate staff members on health care issues.
Democratic and Republican Senate staff members have attended the meetings, according to Craig Orfield, a spokesperson for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
According to the Globe, whether the "two parties and myriad interest groups can overcome their differences over the next year remains to be seen, but several of those participating in the discussions expressed optimism about that possibility."
Orfield said, "There's been talk about the health care crisis for years, but I think in the last year-and-a-half, the system is failing so many people and becoming so costly that I don't think there's anybody who doesn't understand there's got to be fundamental changes to the system."
Jay Himmelstein, a health policy specialist at University of Massachusetts Medical School who has participated in the meetings, said that Kennedy "is trying to learn from health reform attempts in the past and to build a fair amount of consensus among his Senate colleagues, House colleagues and the Obama campaign ... and find a strategy that could carry with some momentum into the new administration."
John Rother -- policy director for AARP, which has participated in the meetings -- said, "You have got to think this will be the Ted Kennedy Health Reform Act, because he's a beloved figure and he's championed the issue for so long," adding, "There are a lot of unknowns right now, but what we do know obviously is he is very close to Obama, and he also has quite a network of health policy experts that he can draw from."
Kennedy spokesperson Melissa Wagoner said, "Making sure each American has access to quality, affordable health care is the cause of Senator Kennedy's life" (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 7/2).