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Rostenkowski Jeered by Seniors Over Stance on Health-Care Measures

August 18, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ Rep. Dan Rostenkowski was booed and followed down the street by a pack of screaming senior citizens as he left a meeting with community leaders opposed to his stance on federal health insurance.

Several dozen people shouted ″Liar 3/8″ ″Impeach 3/8″ and ″Recall 3/8″ Thursday, when the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee left a community center in the Northwest Side Chicago district that for 30 years has sent him to Congress.

The group followed him down the street and briefly blocked his car, hitting it with picket signs and pounding on the windows. Rostenkowski got out of the car and briskly walked about a block, with the seniors in pursuit, until the driver brought the car to a gas station and the congressman was able to get back in.

The car sped away with its tires screeching.

As he walked down the street, Rostenkowski said, ″I don’t think they understand what’s going on. That’s too bad.″

The incident occurred after Rostenkowski discussed his support for the catastrophic health care law during a private, 90-minute meeting with representatives of six senior citizens organizations.

The law set up a supplemental insurance medical plan for senior citizens and has triggered objections because it requires seniors to pay a surtax on their income taxes for the coverage.

In response to complaints, Rostenkowski’s committee last month approved revisions in the program that would reduce the surtax for many of the elderly, but would increase it for some lower-income elderly.

Rostenkowski refused to stop and talk to a larger group of people after the meeting because he felt many of them ″just wanted to vent their frustration, not talk about the issues,″ an aide said.

″They were just going to boo him,″ the aide said.

The congressman left the meeting and made his way through 200 people outside the private meeting room. Some followed him to the street.

″Talk to us 3/8 Talk to us 3/8 You work for us 3/8″ they yelled.

Jerry Prete, president of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, said the meeting with senior representatives idn’t go well, either.

He said Rostenkowski wasn’t receptive to suggestions made during the session.

″We think this man is inhumane,″ said Lawrence Dobson, 67, who was part of the gathering outside the building. ″He’s not answering the questions or needs of the people. Is he afraid of senior citizens?″

The catastrophic coverage law requires most of the elderly to pay a surtax on their income taxes for coverage. It was intended as a way of shielding the elderly from the rocketing medical bills of a major illness. But opponents complain that it requires middle-income retirees to pay unusually high tax rates.

If the Ways and Means Committee proposals to revise the program are approved by Congress and the president, the surtax would be reduced for many elderly taxpayers. But for an elderly couple with an income of $15,000 to $20,000, the annual cost for catastrophic insurance would go up.

Prete said members of his group believe they should not have to pay any premium, arguing that farmers get bailouts, savings and loans are rescued, and those and others benefiting from government fix-its don’t pay extra taxes.

″Why should senior citizens as a single group be taxed at a higher rate?″ he said.

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