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An Addendum on Ted Kennedy

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Greetings from Toronto Pierson (correction: Pearson) airport! I just read Erik’s take on Ted Kennedy, which is overall nicely balanced but also a bit incomplete.

Erik significantly understates Kennedy’s pivotal role in expanding access to health care and protecting patients in the period before the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Kaiser Health News has good timeline, which includes the fact that Kennedy was the key force behind the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985, which allowed millions of people to continue their employer-provided insurance after losing or changing jobs. He also brought us the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which also established “provisions on medical confidentiality” and, perhaps most famously, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Erik also misses the crucial part that Kennedy played in rallying congressional Democrats after epic defeat in the 1994 midterm elections. Many shell-shocked Democrats despaired of achieving progressive policy goals, and some were basically ready to capitulate to Gingrich’s agenda, Some switched parties. Bill Clinton began to pursue his triangulation strategy. Kennedy, on the other hand, argued that congressional Democrats needed to continue to push progressive policies, and helped outline a strategy for doing so.

I vicariously lived some of this. My father was Kennedy’s senior health policy advisor from 1983-2005. In 2016, he published a book, co-written with the late Nick Littlefield, about all of this. You can read Norman Orenstein’s review in the Washington Post, which rightly points out that “there were other actors, including Clinton and Rep. Henry Waxman on the Democratic side, who were also pivotal in these policy successes. Kennedy was a key figure — maybe the key figure — but far from the only important one.” And, of course, you can always make my dad happy and purchase a copy.

I hope everyone is well. I’m on a self-imposed semi-hiatus from blogging while I push to finish a book and close out my tenure as editor of International Studies Quarterly. But I hope to resume regularly scheduled posts by the start of 2019.

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