Kennedy Dies; Universal Care Dream Lives On

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts succumbed to brain cancer Tuesday night.

Click on the image for a timeline of Kennedy's life. Saul Loeb/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Saul Loeb/Getty Images

The 77-year-old legislative giant died just as his great hope for an expansion of health care to serve all Americans is as close to being realized as at any point in his long life.

Kennedy called universal, decent-quality health care for Americans "the cause of my life." Just a month ago, writing in Newsweek, he affirmed his belief that "quality 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."

He acknowledged that he and his family had benefited from some of the best care that money and good insurance could provide. His son Teddy Jr. was stricken with bone cancer at age 12. His daughter Kara was diagnosed with lung cancer seven years ago.

Then, of course, there was Kennedy's personal battle with cancer. In June of last year, Kennedy underwent aggressive surgery to remove a malignant glioma from his brain. Subsequently, he received chemotherapy and a sophisticated and costly form of radiation treatment called proton beam therapy available at only a half-dozen medical centers in the country.

Despite his illness, Kennedy campaigned for Barack Obama and his plan for remaking the nation's health system. In May, Kennedy, writing in the Boston Globe, hammered home his ideals: universal coverage with an end to exclusions based on preexisting conditions or personal financial resources. Cutting costs, he argued, is also critically important.

Regardless of what happens with the overhaul being debated across the country, Kennedy leaves behind a rich legacy of accomplishment in health. He played important roles in the expansion of Medicare to cover the cost of prescription medicines, the addition of millions of children to state health insurance rolls, and establishing parity for mental health care with other coverage.

Question of the day: What do you think is Kennedy's most important health accomplishment?



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