Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Care Could Be Final and Fitting Tribute

By: Ed Fitzpatrick

From President Obama and Bill Belichick, from Nancy Reagan and Liam Neeson, the tributes poured forth Wednesday as the world learned of the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

But there could be no greater tribute to the Massachusetts Democrat, who died at home on Cape Cod late Tuesday at age 77, than passage of “bipartisan health-care reform that includes some form of a public option,” national Common Cause President and CEO Bob Edgar said before boarding an afternoon flight to Rhode Island.

Edgar recalled working with Kennedy on issues related to children and poor people when Edgar was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1987 representing a Pennsylvania district outside Philadelphia, and when he was general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ.

Since 2007, Edgar has headed Common Cause, a national nonpartisan “citizens lobby” based in Washington, D.C., and he was headed to Providence to meet with the board of Common Cause Rhode Island.

During his 47-year career in the Senate, Kennedy made health care his top priority, Edgar said. “I think if he had any disappointments in his life — while he was helpful in getting children covered in the [children’s health insurance] program and working on education issues for children — the one issue that has eluded him has been comprehensive health care,” he said.

So there’s no better way to honor Kennedy than to push forward with the health-care overhaul, Edgar said. “It’s so important because we now have 46 million Americans with no health insurance, we have insurance companies that often turn down people with preexisting health issues, and we have many children outside the health-care network.”

Edgar predicted Kennedy’s death will provide momentum. And Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-West Virginia, is already calling for the pending health-care legislation to be renamed for Kennedy.

But a Common Cause report warns, “Major health-care interests have spent $1.4 million per day this year lobbying Congress, so you can bet the legislative battle will not simply rest on the merits of each side’s argument.”

The June 24 report quotes former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as saying, “Big PhRMA and Big Insurance are gaining ground in their campaign to kill the public option in the emerging health-care bill.” And the report concludes, “As the nation confronts a multi-trillion-dollar health-care system that continues to rise in cost while leaving millions without coverage, the lawmakers charged with drafting and then voting on reform will have their ears full from health industry lobbyists and their campaign coffers full from health industry cash.”

Edgar compared the health-care proposal to a big block of melting ice. “Town hall meetings have generated more heat than insight,” he said. But, he said, “I believe, hopefully, cooler heads will prevail as [members of Congress] face the serious challenge of doing the right thing and not acting in a partisan way.”

Edgar said he’d like the country to celebrate the Christmas and Hanukkah holiday with “a comprehensive health-care reform package signed by the president. I think this is the most important action since the passage of Social Security.”

Edgar said he’d also like to see us pay more attention to Kennedy than we paid to Michael Jackson when he died. “Kennedy had weaknesses as well as Michael did,” he said. “But, in the end, there will be more of a lasting legacy for Senator Kennedy.”

Especially if Congress marks Kennedy’s death by fulfilling his life’s work.

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