While Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) is considered the architect of the Affordable Health Choices Act bill, he was not on Capitol Hill when the pivotal bill was introduced Tuesday. Some wonder if his notable absence—due to cancer—will slow down the healthcare reform process or change its final result.

It’s well-known that Kennedy has spent the bulk of his more than 40-year Senate career pursuing healthcare reform. While Kennedy has remained active in drafting the newly proposed legislation and working with members of Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which he chairs, he has steered clear of the capital as he recovers from a brain tumor. That has left what many consider to be a leadership vacancy in the healthcare fight, The Boston Globe reports. Other lawmakers recognize that healthcare reform legislation will pass regardless of Kennedy’s presence on the Hill, but also acknowledge that the absence of its most vocal supporter and knowledgeable advocate could slow the process, possibly leading to less effective reforms, a Reuters report said.

In his stead, the ailing senator has handed the reins and responsibility of healthcare reform to others, principally Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), a confidant. As the number-two leader on the HELP committee, Dodd has been tapped to lead reform hearings and generally take charge of the Democratic flank of the healthcare charge, The New York Times reports. Dodd will also be working closely with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to reconcile differing views of reform and figure out how to fund a package.

Kennedy’s bill is among the very first detailed healthcare reform proposals to be unveiled to the public. It includes, among other things, a long-term care insurance proposal that would help fund nursing home stays for the disabled, supplementing Medicaid as the reimbursement source.