Greg Sargent simplifies the question:
Public, government-run health care was key to not one, but both of Kennedy’s final health care initiatives.
One of these, of course, has already gotten lots of attention: The version of health care reform that emerged this spring from Kennedy’s Senate health and labor committee, which contained a public option.
But there’s another, oft-overlooked initiative Kennedy championed that makes the point even more strongly. I’m talking about the Medicare for All bill, which was wholly Kennedy’s baby.
Kennedy introduced Medicare for All in 2005 and 2007 and it never got voted out of committee. According to the Commonwealth Fund, a respected health care policy group, it was a “universal public insurance program” that would offer compulsory “Medicare type benefits” from cradle to grave. Public, government-run health care.
“It would have functioned similar to the way Medicare functions now,” Sarah Collins, a vice president at Commonwealth, told our reporter, Amanda Erickson. “It would have been basically a public health option, a single payer proposal.”
Let Senator Kennedy speak for himself, as he did in a press release after the HELP committee passed his bill, which he voted for in committee by proxy:
"I could not be prouder of our Committee. We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do. We have considered hundreds of proposals. Where we have been able to reach principled compromise, we have done so. Where we have not been able to resolve our differences, we have treated those with whom we disagree with respect and patience," Chairman Kennedy said. "As we move from our committee room to the Senate floor, we must continue the search for solutions that unite us, so that the great promise of quality affordable health care for all can be fulfilled." [emphasis mine]
Note that none of the "principled" Republicans on this committee voted for their colleague's bill, including John McCain and Orrin Hatch, those great bipartisans.