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Mass. Health Leaders: Sen. Kerry, Please Stay

Some Massachusetts health care leaders worry about losing U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a strong advocate in Congress, if the senator is chosen for President Obama's Cabinet. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File)

Some Massachusetts health care leaders worry about losing U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a strong advocate in Congress, if the senator is chosen for President Obama’s Cabinet. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File)

BOSTON — As rumors swirl around whether U.S. Sen. John Kerry could become the next U.S. secretary of state, the senator is feeling pressure from a growing number of health care leaders who worry about losing a strong advocate in Congress.

Kerry has become the champion of the health care community following the death of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy three years ago. Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, and a group of her members met with Kerry Thursday in Washington.

“We are always struck when meeting with Sen. Kerry about how extremely knowledgeable he is about issues affecting the commonwealth hospitals,” Nicholas said. “And he’s a very effective advocate for health care in general.”

Al Norman, who runs Mass Home Care, a nonprofit network of 30 elder services agencies, is trying to set up a meeting with Kerry to deliver a more direct message.

“If we got to him, face-to-face,” Norman said, “I’m sure everyone would be saying, ‘Stay where you are, you’re in very a privileged seat, what you do is important to Massachusetts and to the health care community. We would not want to lose you.’ ”

Norman would also tell Kerry that he’s concerned about who would replace the senior senator.

“A Kerry in the hand is worth two unknowns in the bush,” Norman deadpanned. “And I don’t mean George H.W. Bush.”

Kerry is best known these days as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Phil Johnston, a former state Democratic Party chairman and a friend of Kerry’s, points out the senator carries a lot of weight on the Finance Committee, where key decisions on Medicare and Medicaid spending are made.

“John Kerry is really in the cat bird’s seat in health care and he has stepped up to the plate since Sen. Kennedy’s death,” said Johnston, who is among those lobbying for Kerry to keep his current job.

“He’s really heartened by the fact that so many people in this state want him to stay in the Senate,” added Johnston, who has spoken to Kerry about the notes and calls he’s received.

“John Kerry is in a position of very significant seniority, so he can do a great deal for Massachusetts and we don’t want to lose that clout, and I really think that’s where John’s heart is right now.”

Many Democratic leaders would be happy to see Kerry remain in the Senate and preserve the seat for their party. If he leaves, Massachusetts would have two freshman senators next year, with Elizabeth Warren, who has not been sworn in yet, as the state’s senior senator.

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