The Legacy Of Elizabeth Edwards

ThinkProgress is devastated and heartbroken to hear that the health of our dear friend and colleague Elizabeth Edwards has deteriorated, as she wages her courageous battle against breast cancer. A long-time advocate of universal health care, Elizabeth transformed a personal medical tragedy into an instrument for social and political change after her initial diagnosis in November 2004. In the process, she gave voice to the millions of Americans who were left behind by our health system.

With her trademark courage, activism, and strong sense of justice, Elizabeth directly confronted the inequalities of the American health care system and the politicians who perpetuated them. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Elizabeth — a regular contributor to the Wonk Room throughout the health care reform debate and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress — took to our blog and challenged conservatives for releasing a health care plan that would have excluded millions of Americans who suffered from pre-existing or chronic conditions. “Why are people like me left out of your health care proposal,” Elizabeth asked Republicans, pointing out that market-based proposals would leave millions of Americans “outside the clinic doors” and allow insurance companies free reign to continue excluding sicker beneficiaries.

Through congressional testimonies, public speeches, blog posts, and countless television appearances, Elizabeth emphasized the human and moral dimension of the health care debate. She pressed lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to pass a law that not only offered insurance to those who went without it, but did so at affordable rates. After all, nine out of every ten people who sought individual coverage in the current system “never got it,” Elizabeth reminded the protectors of the status quo. “People who have had cancer are denied coverage and those who get cancer run the risk of simply being dropped by their insurer for any excuse that can be found.” Elizabeth also highlighted the inequality facing women, who pay more for health insurance than men because they can potentially become pregnant.

Elizabeth was indispensable to the Democratic push for health care reform not only because of her persuasiveness and breadth of knowledge, but also because of her dedication to extending the health benefits she herself enjoyed to every American. In spite of her ailing condition, she inspires a sense of strength in all of us. She has viewed access to health care as an urgent issue that every American could agree on. And as she wrote in the aftermath of the death of her friend Tony Snow, “lots of people who valued the same things Tony did — a family well-loved and work well-done — have died and will die of colon cancer, those who have preceded Tony and those who will follow him.” But “can’t we start with something easy on which we can agree?” she asked, suggesting “that no one should die of a disease we can find and stop?” Thanks in part to her tireless efforts, that vision will become a reality.

You can read an archive of her work at the Wonk Room here.