Policy-ish

Golden Oldie: Seniors Protest Health Overhaul In 1989


Chicago politics has always been a contact sport.

But even congressional tough guy Dan Rostenkowski, the Windy City pol who ruled the powerful House Ways and Means Committee for years, didn't know what hit him two decades ago, when irate senior citizens descended upon his car after a town hall meeting to discuss a law that made some of the biggest changes to Medicare since it was established in 1965.

Some hold up the historic confrontation as a cautionary tale for the Obama administration and congressional Democrats seeking to remake health care. Another take, the public won't support change that involves too many compromises.

After all, the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988, which Rostenkowski supported, was supposed to shore up the health plan for the elderly and disabled, adding coverage for outpatient drugs and capping co-payments for medical services (the catastrophic stuff). But there was a catch, and that's what ticked off the senior citizens. The expansion of benefits was financed by a hike in Medicare premiums paid by enrollees.

"No way!" they told Rosty, as you can see in the priceless video. His response, "These people don't understand what the government is trying to do for them." You think?

The protests worked and the law, originally supported by President Reagan and both houses of Congress, was repealed.

As for Rosty, he fell from power after a scandal involving the House post office and eventually served 15 months in federal prison for mail fraud. President Clinton pardoned him in December 2000.

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