Elizabeth Galentine – my esteemed colleage, favorite gumshoe reporter and Managing Editor of Employee Benefit Adviser – recently rounded up a panel of benefits pros to discuss what comes next for health care reform, now that Sen. Edward Kennedy, the effort’s biggest Democratic champion, has passed away.

It’s one of those times you wish you could be a fly on the wall. But thanks to E.G., you don’t have to. Read on, and then share your thoughts in the comment box.

Cyndy Nayer, president, Center for Health Value Innovation: “Senator Kennedy's death will have an impact on the reform at the level of moveable compromise. He was the person in the Senate who made health access his life's work, that's true. But his legislative acumen was driving for consensus. He knew exactly how many people would be affected by a bill, the exact costs, and the incremental reach and cost by each amendment, each modification. No one else has assumed that role, therefore, his expertise and devotion will be sorely missed. Will health care reform move forward without him? I think, yes. Will it be palatable to most, or an even an amenable compromise? I have my doubts, but I hope that his message of accessibility and affordability resonates in the coming weeks.”

Janet Trautwein, EVP and CEO, National Association of Health Underwriters: “The passing of Senator Ted Kennedy may encourage some to act quickly in a very partisan fashion. However, Senator Kennedy’s true legacy was his ability to bring stakeholders together and reach across the aisle in a very bipartisan fashion. His work in creating the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and enacting mental health parity legislation are just two examples of his ability to persuade others to put partisan differences aside in the search for solutions.”

Tom Schuetz, co-president, Iowa benefit firm Group Services: “I don’t think Senator Kennedy’s death will have a significant impact at this time. Senator Kennedy put his plan on the table early, the public has had an opportunity to react to it, and I think so much has occurred since then to lessen the impact of his death. Please understand my comments are not intended to disrespect Senator Kennedy and his efforts in any way. While we may not agree on methods, I certainly admire the consistency of his position. I do still think there will be some type of reform this year, but I’m not prepared to predict what the reform will. I think there are still many twists and turns to this tale, and it really has become more interesting to watch the politics surrounding the debate.”

Bill Sweetnam, principal, Groom Law Group: “I think that Senator Kennedy's death will not change whether health care reform gets passed this year. I think the Democrats will have to move health care reform on their own and without Senator Kennedy's vote. Democratic leadership will have to decide whether they split the bill into two separate bills -- one a reconciliation bill, which only needs 51 votes, and one a non-reconciliation bill, which the Republicans can filibuster. I do not think that Democrats could overcome a filibuster even before Senator Kennedy's death.”

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