Seven Possible Health Reform Leaders in the Senate

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , September 8, 2009

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who died last month, was nicknamed the "lion of the Senate" for the way he presided in his position—fighting for many issues, including healthcare and universal healthcare coverage during his 47 years in office.

Will anyone be able to fill his position as he did—working both sides of the aisle to find agreements and hammer out healthcare legislation? It will be a tough assignment. So who is likely to take on the lead position as the advocate for healthcare issues in the Senate?

Here are seven potential candidates:

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who took over for Kenneday earlier this year to temporarily head up the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to push the healthcare reform bill through, has expressed interest in moving permanently into the position—giving up his position as chair of the Banking Committee.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), has served many years as chair of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee. While excluded from the group of six that has been developing the healthcare reform proposal, Rockefeller has been instrumental in introducing numerous healthcare proposals during the reform debate, including turning the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission into an executive branch agency.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), in his first term in the Senate, has served on the HELP Committee and has been a strong proponent in recent months of the public insurance option in the healthcare reform legislation.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), made healthcare reform the subject of the first three pieces of legislation he introduced when he took office in 2007. Prior to his election, he was involved with health-related issues, including helping to found the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a collaborative effort between healthcare providers, insurers, and government.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), has been involved in healthcare for decades—since he was a director of the Oregon Gray Panthers. He has had an ongoing interest in healthcare reform legislation: In 2006, he proposed the first major bipartisan healthcare reform legislation in more than a decade to provide portable healthcare coverage.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has become one of the more visible faces of pushing for healthcare reform this year—including looking at alternatives to getting bipartisan support such as reconciliation.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), as head of the Senate Finance Committee, has been seeking support bipartisan support for healthcare reform legislation with his panel that includes GOP members.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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