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What would Ted do now?

January 25, 2010
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Executive Director, NACBHDD
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After a tough week, let’s remember what the former Massachusetts senator would do

Many friends and colleagues have become disheartened as a result of this past week’s national turn of events. After a year of hard work to assure that mental health and substance use care and prevention are an integral part of National Health Reform, they fear that a single election in Massachusetts will unravel the entire package. Unfortunately, when you become disheartened, you usually stop undertaking crucial actions. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy which eventuates in exactly the negative outcome you fear. We must not let this happen to National Health Reform!

Although I really do not like military analogies, I will employ one here. The election in Massachusetts represents but a skirmish in a much longer war. The war is about whether good health will become a basic human right in the United States, much like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Losing this skirmish does not mean that the war is lost. In fact, over the longer term, the election in Massachusetts may actually facilitate establishing good health as a human right. I suspect that once we learn more about the financial interests who funded the win in Massachusetts, the luster of this win will fade like the winter sun. Filling “the people’s seat” is incompatible with campaign funding by large special interests. Meanwhile, we the people need to keep our eyes on the goal of good health as a basic human right and how National Health Reform can promote this goal.

Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are currently taking stock of the next steps. You and I both know that health reform actions will be necessary to control the future federal deficit and to promote the current economic recovery of the United States. Hence, it is exceptionally important to remember that doing nothing about health insurance and care financing reform is simply unacceptable. This means that the Speaker and the Majority Leader must come forth with at least a reduced reform plan. An urgent need exists for us to participate in this discussion and express our own views.

What would the late Senator Ted Kennedy do in this circumstance? I think that we all know. For more than one-third of his life and for the entire period during which he served as “The Lion of the Senate,” Senator Kennedy was fully and unequivocally committed to National Health Reform. He was often quoted as saying,”Our dream lives on, our cause endures, our hope will never die.” Were he alive today, he would be negotiating with the Speaker and the Majority Leader right now. The Lion understood that the war over good health as a basic human right is long-term and that continuing commitment and action are needed over the longer term to realize this vision.

What can you and I do right now? There is an urgent need for us to contact our Senators, our Representatives, and the White House with a simple message: We support National Health Reform fully and we urgently request you to do so as well. Before the sun sets today, make these calls. They are very important.

More than 65 years ago, at the height of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an urgent call for the establishment of good health as a basic human right. Little did he realize at the time that more than six decades would elapse before our national leaders would come forth with a plan to take the initial steps in this direction. Like Senator Kennedy, President Roosevelt would be urging us to act now. Let’s not abandon these steps toward his vision.

I am reminded of the famous song from the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s: “Deep in my heart, I do believe that we will overcome some day….”