What Kennedy's Seizure Could Mean for Health Reform


The senator's collapse during a luncheon for President Obama may reopen speculation about a successor to his leadership on health-care reform

While questions about Senator Edward Kennedy's health swirled on Inauguration Day, there seem to be fewer questions about the impact on health reform.

The senator from Massachusetts collapsed during a luncheon for Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol shortly after Obama was sworn in as President on Jan. 20. Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer, was reportedly conscious and talking when he arrived at the hospital.

Still, the episode could reopen quiet speculation about the direction of health-care reform if he's unable to carry out his duties as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. But radical changes aren't likely.

No. 2 on Committee: Chris Dodd

Even during Kennedy's recovery from brain surgery, the ailing Democrat relied on Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a good friend and the No. 2 member of the Senate committee Kennedy chairs, to work on the Senate version of the package. Earlier this month, Kennedy even dispatched Dodd to meet with Obama; Kennedy called Dodd his lieutenant.

Given Dodd's close relationship with Kennedy and his close working relationship with Tom Daschle, the former South Dakota senator heading Obama's health-care reform effort, many thought he might want to take the lead if Kennedy couldn't, at least in part to carry out his friend's legacy. But more recently, Capitol Hill aides have said Dodd is more intent on the financial-services reform overseen by the Senate Banking Committee he now chairs.

Staffers working for Kennedy, Dodd, and Obama have been meeting regularly to iron out details of a health-care reform plan.

Leaders Shaken

Kennedy's seizure visibly shook several congressional leaders, including Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a longtime Kennedy friend despite belonging to the opposing party, and Obama himself. "I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him," Obama said during remarks at the luncheon.

Kennedy, who is 76, had to be taken from the ornate room in the Capitol on a stretcher, perhaps the victim of a seizure, Hatch said.

"The good news is he's going to be fine," said Dodd.

Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor, which was diagnosed following a seizure in May. Surgery in June was followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

Epstein is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. Francis is a writer in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau.

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