I followed the news back in the 1970s, and I remember that then-President Carter proposed a system of government health insurance that would cover everyone but just for top-dollar health needs — prolonged hospitalization, etc. Don’t know what the proposal’s kick-in point would have been, what dollar figure. The idea was that no one would have to go bankrupt because of health costs, but they might still be paying a lot to the family doctor or the pharmaceutical companies.
Kennedy and Carter were circling around each other because Carter sucked at being president and Kennedy thought he might take the job from him. When Carter pushed for catastrophic care, Kennedy pushed for universal care. A lot of Democrats laughed at Carter’s proposal as warmed-over Republicanism. What a silly name too — “catastrophic” health care insurance, boy, that must be some lousy insurance.
Too bad we don’t have catastrophic care now. But Carter’s proposal died, as usually happened with Carter proposals, and Kennedy’s proposal got nowhere, as was very frequently proving the case for liberal proposals during the late 1970s. And soon enough we had Reagan, and now people are still going bankrupt because of their hospital bills.
I guess Kennedy did a lot behind the scenes to advance good causes. Legislative work is highly technical and also tends to have incremental ends. Judging somebody’s value at the work isn’t possible unless you have a lot of knowledge and a nuanced sense of what counts as a worthwhile result. People who know Congress have said for decades that Kennedy did good work and accomplished worthwhile things. Okay, fine.
But in the late 197os we had a chance to take a step forward, and Kennedy got in the way instead of making it happen. It’s too bad.