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Before ObamaCare, McCain Tried To Save Another Unpopular Health Law From Repeal

In what will likely be one of the final acts of his career as a Senator, John McCain may have scuttled the last chance to repeal ObamaCare, a law that he voted against, that was sold to the public on false pretenses, was widely disliked, and that he and his fellow Republicans had promised for seven years to repeal the first chance they got.

McCain says he wants ObamaCare repealed, but only if it’s done through “regular order.”

Nearly 30 years ago, however, that wasn’t the excuse McCain gave in his battle to protect another unpopular health law targeted for repeal.

In 1988, Congress passed what was called the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. As originally conceived by the Reagan administration, this modest bill was meant to protect seniors from the cost of extended hospital stays, in exchange for a $4.92 monthly fee.

But as it moved through Congress, Democrats slapped on a number of new benefits — drug coverage, hospice care, extended nursing home benefits, coverage for various screening tests. The annual cost exploded to nearly $10 billion a year.

And that modest $4.92 monthly fee turned into a $10 fee, plus an income-based surtax that would have hit 40% of seniors and was slated to reach $1,000 a year.

McCain was one of 11 Senators who voted against the Medicare expansion, saying before his “no” vote that “while providing some important benefits, (it) misses the mark with respect to the real health care concern of seniors. “

Reagan, at the urging of Vice President Bush, signed it into law in July 1988.

But once Medicare enrollees learned what was in the bill, and how much it would cost, they revolted. Despite the title, the “catastrophic coverage” law didn’t protect seniors from the biggest catastrophic cost of all — nursing home care — and many seniors already had the benefits being added to Medicare, and at lower premiums. In a famous scene, angry seniors surrounding House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski’s, forcing him to escape on foot.

By June 1989, nearly two dozen bills had been introduced to repeal, delay or alter the law.

In early October, the House voted overwhelmingly — 360 to 66 — to repeal the Medicare expansion.

But when a similar repeal bill came up in the Senate, McCain voted against it.

Instead, he pushed a compromise that would keep most of the new Medicare benefits, but get rid of the surtax. McCain’s bill passed the Senate 99-0.

The House, however, refused to budge when it came time to reconcile the two bills, forcing the Senate eventually to relent on McCain’s plan.

And McCain? He vowed to filibuster the repeal bill, saying “we cannot do this to the seniors of America” (he later decided not to filibuster). He warned that repeal would “cause a backlash of enormous proportions when the 60% who were never going to have to pay the surtax find out that they lose these benefits.”

In the end, McCain’s desperate attempts failed. And just 17 months after President Reagan signed the Medicare expansion into law, President Bush authorized its repeal.

McCain’s dire predictions about repeal turned out to be catastrophically wrong, as well. There were no political repercussions.

The parallels to today’s events are striking. Like that Medicare expansion, ObamaCare was sold to the public on false pretenses (you can keep your plan, it will cut costs by $2,500, it won’t add to the deficit, etc.). Like the 1988 law, ObamaCare ended up costing millions of people more for coverage they already had. It proved to be highly unpopular with the public. And McCain voted against both, only to turn around and try to protect each from repeal.

But where his effort to spare the Medicare law failed nearly 30 years ago in his first Senate term, McCain might very well succeed in protecting ObamaCare in his last.

  • Merline is Deputy Editor of Commentary and Opinion at IBD.

RELATED:

McCain Puts ‘Process’ Over Promises And Likely Saves ObamaCare

The GOP’s Last-Ditch Effort To Repeal ObamaCare Is Surprisingly Good

Memo to Jimmy Kimmel: ObamaCare Doesn’t Pass The ‘Jimmy Kimmel Test’ Either


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