Congress intended the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act (MCCA) of 1988 to reduce the risk for illness-related catastrophic financial losses in the elderly. The act was short-lived, facing repeal just one year after passage. Many elderly persons were convinced that the costs of the program outweighed the benefits. However nursing home payment provisions of the MCCA may have affected out-of-pocket expenses paid by the elderly for long-term care more than consumers realized at the time of repeal. A transmittal memorandum, issued by the Health Care Financing Administration independent of Congressional action, enhanced consumers' ability to qualify for Medicare nursing home benefits. We investigated the effects of the Medicare policy change on nursing home payer mix and out-of-pocket expenses in 489 Pennsylvania nursing homes. We found that substantial shifts in payer mix from self-pay to Medicare payment sources occurred, reducing out-of-pocket expenses. Unfortunately the debate over the MCCA's repeal did not include discussion of the improved nursing home benefit structure. These findings, and the fate of the MCCA legislation, reinforce the importance of comprehensive information and clear communication in promoting health care reform.