RIP, Senator Kennedy

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Ted Kennedy since he died
a couple of days ago. I grew up in Massachusetts, so via the
miracle of television, he’s spent a lot of time in my living room,
even though I didn’t know him personally, and I only remember once when
we were in the same (large) room together.

Many other people have been analyzing how his work in the
senate shaped America as we know it today. I’ll just tell you a
couple of personal stories.

Chapaquiddick

The speech he gave where he offered to resign is the other
television event I remember from the summer of 1969, besides the
moon landing.
It was a well-delivered speech, and an effective piece of persuasive
writing. The person who is usually credited with writing it,
Theodore Sorenson, was proposed as head of the CIA in the Carter
administration, but the appointment was withdrawn. I remember one
of the arguments against it being that he had written that speech,
which may have contained some lies, and certainly didn’t tell the
whole truth. At the time, I was surprised that the opposition
would have been stated that way, since I don’t see how never
having told a lie or suppressed a truth can possibly be a
qualification for being head of an intelligence agency.

Money from an insurance company

The only time I actually called on him for help as a
constituent, his staff was quite effective. I had been using what
was then called Harvard Community Health Plan (HCHP), one
of the original
manged care organizations, for my health care for about 15 years.
I had been fairly satisfied with the care I’d received, but once I
became a contractor and no longer had my coverage paid for by my
employer, I found dealing with their billing organization
increasingly annoying. The last straw was when they wrote that
they were cancelling my policy because they hadn’t gotten my check
on time. (It had actually crossed that letter in the mail.)

I went into a frenzy of letter writing, and wrote to their
billing that they
weren’t cancelling me, I was cancelling them, and wrote letters to
the two doctors I had a relationship with explaining what was
happening.

When they didn’t return the check I’d sent after a month or
so, I wrote to Senator Kennedy, explaining the situation. In
fact, I was more concerned that he be aware that individuals were
having this kind of problem retaining coverage than that he get me
my check. I had both a diabetes and an asthma diagnosis at this
point, and I suspected HCHP of cherry-picking, and also of not
really wanting to deal with billing individuals. His office sprang into action and called both the
HCHP billing office and the Massachusetts Insurance
Commission.

Less than a week after writing that letter, on the same day I got a letter in
the regular mail from Senator Kennedy’s office saying what they’d
done, and how I should follow up if I didn’t receive my check in a
week, and an express delivery of the check from HCHP.

Cancer diagnosis

I heard of Senator Kennedy’s cancer diagnosis while I was on my
way to pick up Bonnie’s
belongings from the hospice two days after she died. I remember
wondering how much difference it would make that he was richer,
more powerful, and maybe more knowledgeable about the health care
system than Bonnie had been.

The answer seems to be quite
a lot.
He was getting out of bed most days until the actual
day he died; he was at home with his family and friends and dogs
until the end; and while the brain surgery did affect his vision
and motor skills, he continued to do what he loved doing,
including sailing and writing letters until almost the very end.

Of course, it may well have been just the luck of the draw that
his surgery left him relatively unimpaired and Bonnie’s left her
unable to speak or move her left side, but it may well also have been a
difference in quality of care. If it happens to me, I hope I get
closer to the kind Kennedy got than the kind Bonnie got.

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