The New York Times reports that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has initiated “stakeholder talks” around the formation of a new health policy, based on universal health care.

Many of the parties, from big insurance companies to lobbyists for consumers, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, are embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.

While not all industry groups are in complete agreement, there is enough of a consensus, according to people who have attended the meetings, that they have begun to tackle the next steps: how to enforce the requirement for everyone to have health insurance; how to make insurance affordable to the uninsured; and whether to require employers to help buy coverage for their employees.

The talks, which are taking place behind closed doors, are unusual. Lobbyists for a wide range of interest groups — some of which were involved in defeating national health legislation in 1993-4 — are meeting with the staff of Mr. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, in a search for common ground.

Mr. Kennedy is fighting brain cancer, and participants in the talks said his illness had added urgency to the discussions.

The article goes on to point out the difference between this process and the process the Clinton administration led in the early ’90s, when it demonized health insurers and accused them of price gouging.

And while it’s an awful price to pay, it’s fitting that the health care debate is actually being accelerated by Ted Kennedy’s illness.

There seems to be a good amount of momentum here, and while certainly not anywhere near complete, this consensus building is a great step.  I’m very hopeful we’ll see large developments fairly soon.