By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 12/29/2009 9:49:36 AM ET 2009-12-29T14:49:36

Claim: Once enacted, the health care overhaul will never be repealed.

The Senate health insurance overhaul "is a starter home, not a mansion," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on Dec. 16. "We can build some additions onto it in the future." Other supporters of the bill concur with Harkin. The bill, even if flawed in the view of some Democrats, "will never be repealed…. It will become a permanent part of the American social welfare state, something people cherish," said Jonathan Cohn, a writer for the liberal magazine, The New Republic. So what is the track record on the permanence of health and welfare legislation?

Fact or fiction?
Unclear. The major social welfare legislation of the 20th century remains on the books: Child labor, banned in 1938, hasn't been re-legalized. Social Security, enacted in 1935, covers more categories of people and pays far higher benefits in real terms than it did at its start. Medicare, enacted in 1965, seems a permanent fixture, although Congress is trying to cut its growth rate. And the Medicare drug benefit, enacted in 2003, won't be repealed. But then there's the famous case that proves that health legislation can be repealed: in 1989, only a year after its enactment, a bill to provide catastrophic acute care treatment of Medicare patients was repealed by Congress. Taxpayers age 65 and older had rebelled against the bill's increase in premiums, especially the surtax on the 40 percent of Medicare enrollees with the highest incomes, many of whom already had catastrophic coverage.

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