The New York Times has a very interesting article today about the impact Senator Ted Kennedy’s absence from the Senate for health reasons is having on the process towards landmark healthcare reform. What’s especially important to note is that reform is moving forward in Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee because of the work of the number two Democrat on HELP: Chris Dodd.
Mr. Kennedy’s close friend, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who is the No. 2 Democrat on the health committee, has taken on the main role. He is supported by the leaders of three health care “working groups” that Mr. Kennedy created in November, which is when he tapped Mr. Dodd to be his “chief deputy.”
Mr. Dodd met with Mr. Kennedy about the health legislation and had dinner at his home on Sunday. Mr. Kennedy is also in touch by phone with President Obama.
Mr. Dodd, in a conference call with reporters, said he was holding out hope for Mr. Kennedy’s return. “My hope is he’ll be back at any, any one of these days,” he said.
“There is also a spirit he brings to, a dynamic that is hard to quantify,” Mr. Dodd said. “And so, he’ll be missed when he’s not there. But my hope is that he will be back as frequently as he can to play that role.”
What’s interesting about the Times piece is that it’s on a subject that seems to largely be ignored by the press: the functional impact of Senator Kennedy’s battle with brain cancer and how Senator Dodd has stepped in to ensure that healthcare reform moves forward at full speed. Dodd has not received any noticable credit, either in the DC press or back home in Connecticut, for the yeoman’s work he’s doing to guarantee we get major healthcare legislation authored and passed.
Yesterday Dodd penned an op-ed in the New London Day in which he described his vision for HELP’s healthcare reform legislation and the importance that any healthcare bill include a public health insurance option.
This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will put forward a historic health care reform proposal. As a senior member of that committee, I’ve been asked by its chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy, to help lead these efforts, working with President Barack Obama and our congressional colleagues.
For me, the bottom line is that we need to preserve the ability for people to choose their own doctors, hospitals, and insurance plans. If you like what you have, you can keep it; if you don’t, you’ll finally have affordable options available to you. In my view, that must include a public health insurance option in addition to private options.
Almost equally as important, the bill must drive down costs for families, businesses and government alike. The Council of Economic Advisers just found that if we shave a mere 1.5 percent off the growth of health care costs each year, families will have thousands of extra dollars in their pockets to spend on a down payment for a first home or to send a child to college. Small businesses, which pay higher premiums than larger businesses, will have more affordable choices they need to compete and innovate. Reducing costs is absolutely essential to getting our economy back on track.
Thirdly, we need to expand coverage. Eighty-six million Americans go without coverage at some point every year; millions more live in fear that they may lose their job and with it their health insurance. Failing to cover everyone costs the average family in Connecticut $700 every year.
I know that Senator Dodd would want nothing more than for his dear friend Ted Kennedy to be healthy and driving healthcare reform himself from the HELP committee. But Dodd’s leadership in his absence has been tremendous and it’s good to finally see it recognized, if even in passing, by the Times.
I think a landmark piece of healthcare legislation that includes a public health insurance option will pass this year. And when it does, its passage will only have been possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of Senator Chris Dodd to improve the lives of all Americans by ensuring they have the healthcare they need and deserve.