Kennedy siblings, with a legacy of child health

August 27, 2009

The two Kennedy siblings will be remembered for a lifetime of service for child health.

The passing of two Kennedy siblings not only marks an end of an era of politics, but a farewell to two groundbreaking figures who have bettered the lives of children.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), who died on Tuesday, Aug 25, at age 77, was one of Washington’s most influential voices for health care. Last year, he was crucial in getting a mental health parity bill passed, which will help those with addictions or psychological disorders be covered by their insurance provider. This year, he helped pass a bill that put tobacco under the regulatory power of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Most notably in recent years, he helped spearhead the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SHCIP), which has given millions of low- and middle-income children medical coverage. Other health care legislation that he helped enact includes the creation of COBRA insurance for the recently unemployed, the Americans with Disabilities Act, bills to help those with cancer and HIV/AIDS, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). He also helped pass the No Child Left Behind school reform bill.

He was preceded in death by his older sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died two weeks earlier at age 88 on Aug 11. Shriver, spurred on by seeing her sister Rosemary be lobotomized due to her developmental disorder, worked to better the lives of those with special needs. This work, dovetailing with her Camp Shriver to promote physical activity for people with special needs, turned into the Special Olympics. Millions participate every year. Her advocacy has trickled down to better and more compassionate care for anyone with a mental or disability.

In 2008, the National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICHD), by an act of Congress, changed its name to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD. There is talk of naming a federal building after Senator Kennedy, to go along with RFK Stadium and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Both the FDA and the National Institutes of Health, currently unnamed, seem likely subjects.