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The last time health care was repealed

By Matt Holdridge

From James Antle in the Daily Caller

The drive to “repeal and replace” the newly enacted health care-reform law has already bumped into a bit of Beltway conventional wisdom: Entitlements are never repealed. Even if Republicans somehow summoned the political will to try, they would first need to win the presidency and a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate.

That would be a tall order, to be sure. And no one should underestimate the difficulty of reversing what Washington has wrought—in a welfare state, the ratchet effect usually works only one way. But those who say it has never been done before are forgetting about the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988.

Unlike President Obama’s recent health care handiwork, the 1988 law was a genuinely bipartisan achievement passed by lopsided margins. It was signed into law by a Republican president, Ronald Reagan. It offered all kinds of new benefits, including expanded coverage of hospital stays, at-home care, and prescription drugs (the act was in some respects of a forerunner of Medicare Part D).

The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act was nevertheless repealed a year later. No change in partisan control of Washington was necessary—the repeal was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by another Republican president, George H.W. Bush. The repeal turned out to be most popular with the elderly voters who had demanded the new benefits in the first place.

He goes on,

Not everyone who opposed Medicare expansion was particularly principled or even well informed. Health care scholar David Hyman quoted a reporter as saying at the time, “the elderly are not against the new benefits—unlimited hospital care, new at-home benefits, prescription drug coverage; they just don’t want to pay for them.”

The conclusion,

…if the new health care reform law results in higher taxes, higher premiums, and busted state budgets, more people will be angry than the occasional old woman who says she doesn’t want the federal government messing with her Medicare. This could prove especially true of legislation with front-loaded costs that was narrowly supported by members of just one political party.

In 1988, members of Congress thought they were passing catastrophic care. They ended up with a catastrophe. Repeal is always a possibility when their political health is at stake.

The political class is hoping that we forget about the health care fight. It’s our job to keep it on the front burner. 

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