‘Miles to go’ before Kennedy’s vision of healthcare reform is realized

On Aug. 25, Massachusetts Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy passed away at the age of 77 after battling a malignant glioma, leaving our nation to celebrate his accomplishments and wonder how his passing will affect Congress’ current healthcare reform proposals.

September2nd,2009
Amy Swinderman
On Aug. 25, Massachusetts Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy passedaway at the age of 77 after battling a malignant glioma, leaving our nation tocelebrate his accomplishments and wonder how his passing will affect Congress'current healthcare reform proposals.
 
Kennedy considered healthcare reform "the cause" of hislife, fighting for universal, comprehensive coverage for all Americans at least15 times throughout his 47 years in the U.S. Senate. Even while undergoingcancer treatments in recent years, he worked closely with the Senate Health,Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee to pass a healthcare reform billthis year.
 
 
Whether consensus on meaningful healthcare reform can bereached in Washington by year's end remains to be seen, and the pharma andbiotech markets have been operating under the same uncertainty for months as itis unclear how such a proposal would impact those industries. At the crux ofthis contentious debate is whether access to affordable, effective healthcareservices should be considered a right, not a privilege, for all Americans.
 
 
Aside from his own recent experience, Kennedy had a verypersonal perspective on this noble idea. In 1941, his sister Rosemary Kennedyunderwent a lobotomy that mentally incapacitated her for the rest of her life.In 1961, his father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., suffered a major stroke, losing thepower of speech and suffering paralysis on his right side. In 1973, Kennedy'sson Edward Kennedy Jr., was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma and had his legamputated. Kennedy was also said to nurse his other son, Patrick J. Kennedy,who suffered from severe asthma attacks as a child. And his brother-in-law,Sargent Shriver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003.
 
 
The Kennedy clan likely had access to the best medical careavailable, and the senator received health insurance coverage through theFederal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program, but his experiences made himkeenly aware that America's health care system is marred by deep inequality.Observing in a speech before the Montgomery County Democratic Committee thathis son's cancer treatments where covered by his government-sponsoredinsurance, while other families whose children had the same condition wereforced to sell their homes to pay for only a few months of treatments, Kennedysaid:
 
"I knew that my child was going to have the best because I had the healthinsurance of the United States Senate. And I knew that no one, no parent, noparent in that hospital had the kind of coverage that I had. That kind ofchoice, for any parent in this country is absolutely unacceptable and wrong, myfriends."
 
 
In the course of our reporting on pharma and biotechbusiness deals, ddn's editorial teamoften asks companies how they will ultimately measure the success of theiracquisition, merger, partnership or collaboration. No matter the size or nicheof the company, the answer is always the same: to provide effective newmedicines for patients, to address unmet medical needs, to improve the qualityof life for patients suffering from "insert disease name here." These aregallant goals, but with millions of Americans without or in danger of losingtheir health insurance, the almost boiler-plate verbiage begs the question:What good are these efforts if only a limited number of patients have access tothem?
 
In his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in1980, Kennedy often paraphrased Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping By Woods on aSnowy Evening," at the conclusion of every stump speech to indicate that he hadto go on to another political event: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, andI have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go beforeI sleep." Kennedy's remarkable journey has come to an end, and as he finallyrests in peace, it is now up to American lawmakers to decide the fate of hisvision for healthcare reform. Whatever argument you favor, we must all play anactive role in the crafting of this legislation if we expect to truly succeedin achieving better patient outcomes. There is far too much at stake to remainsilent in this debate.

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