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How Ted Kennedys Replacement Is Impacting Healthcare Reform

Several months ago, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (often referred to as Ted) passed away. Oft-referred to as a "liberal lion", he was one of the Senate's major supporters of healthcare reform and express vociferous support for the public option. His temporary replacement, Paul G. Kirk Jr. has taken up the mantle of his former mentor. Kennedy's death was considered a blow to the prospects of a public option, although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have recently renewed them. With a decades-long tenure, he had connections with politicians on both sides of the aisle. It's doubtful that a relative newcomer will be able to achieve the bipartisan cooperation he asked for in his recent floor speech. Healthcare reform, especially the public option, are very politically divisive issues. Rhetoric has become even more partisan over the past several months.

What exactly does Kirk want in a healthcare reform bill? During his speech, he assailed the health insurance lobby, which he referred to as a collection of "special interests" who profit off of the status quo. While many politicians in both parties have pointed to a recession as a reason for delaying reform (or scuttling it altogether), Kirk also stated his view that there is an even greater need for reform now, with so many families in need. Like his predecessor, he supports the public option, telling the Boston Globe that he believes it is the most effective way to increase competition in the insurance market and lower your health insurance quote. While not completely discounting the debt resulting from such an action, he seems to think that a New Deal-esque public program for insurance will assist in jump-starting the economy and eventually pay back in spades.

When it comes to driving the direction of the health care debate, Kirk is in a surprisingly good position--despite being a new senator with little clout in a chamber ruled by seniority. He also doesn't have to worry about re-election, since he will leave office after Massachusetts' special election in late January. As a result, unlike most other legislators, he doesn't need to pander as much to either side. Above all, he wants both parties to cooperate the way they did in his home state. People across the political spectrum have pointed out flaws in that state's healthcare reform program, but the combined efforts of Republicans (such as Mitt Romney) and Democrats on Massachusetts health care reform resulted in nearly all of its population (97%) becoming insured. Similar to the late Ted Kennedy, Kirk thinks that providing basic healthcare through a public option is a moral imperative for the American government. His ideal of compromise is a lofty goal. Kirk may not be able to overcome this philosophical difference with Republicans, who think private industry is more efficient and that it isn't the government's job to get so involved (although some are more open than others to stricter regulation of the health insurance industry). However, the underlying concept of a health care system that benefits all Americans is one that applies to both parties.

(Image: Official U.S. Senate Portrait)

By: Yamileth Medina