The federal government should join the state of Massachusetts in enacting universal health coverage, said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over numerous health issues.
Mr. Kennedy’s home state is the first to require everyone to have health insurance, just as drivers must have automobile coverage.
The Massachusetts Democrat has his own version of what universal health coverage would look like. He wants to extend Medicare to all. In his first hearing yesterday as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Mr. Kennedy called on 10 witnesses from across the country to talk about how to make health care more affordable.
“Insurance coverage is down. Costs are up. And America is heading to the bottom of the league of major nations in important measures of the quality of care,” Mr. Kennedy said.
He emphasized how Democrats in the Massachusetts General Court worked last year with Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, to create universal coverage in the state. He wants the same spirit of compromise to take hold in Congress.
However, the hearing also showed that finding agreement won’t be easy. Although all the witnesses agreed that health care is becoming less affordable, they often had polar opposite solutions.
For example, the Business Roundtable renewed its calls to change medical-liability laws and for the federal government to give consumers more information about the cost and quality of the care they receive.
“High health care costs are affecting job creation, and high health care costs are hurting our ability to compete in global markets,” said Larry Burton, the association’s executive director.
But Andrew Stern, international president of the Service Employees International Union, called for much more dramatic change. He told lawmakers that it’s time to recognize that employer-based coverage “is dead.”