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A Class Act
August 27, 2009 • Volume 9, Issue 34
With all of the debate about health care reform at the moment, it is easy to lose sight of some valuable proposals. One common-sense provision included in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s health reform legislation, and added as an amendment to the House health reform bill (H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009), is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act of 2009. The CLASS Act is part of the legacy of the late Senator Kennedy, whose life’s work included health care reform and programs to secure rights and assistance for people with disabilities and other vulnerable Americans. In sum, the CLASS Act is a long-term care insurance plan that was designed to help those with functional impairments pay for support services while allowing them to remain independent, employed and a part of their community.
Currently there are 10 million Americans in need of long-term care services and supports, and the number is expected to continue to increase. Too often, many of these individuals are forced to quit their jobs and spend down their income and assets, just so they can qualify for Medicaid in order to get long-term care These folks often end up in nursing homes because they are offered or have no other alternatives.
The CLASS Act would create a new national insurance fund for long-term care services by enrolling eligible workers into the program, unless they choose not to be enrolled. Financed through payroll deductions, the fund would provide a lifetime benefit ranging from $50 per day to $100 per day, depending on the needs of the person. This cash benefit would provide the recipient a great deal of independence and control over the care to be received and allow individuals to choose to remain at home and active in their communities.
The new insurance fund would not totally replace the need for other coverage for long-term care through Medicaid or private insurance, but would supplement this coverage or offset costs to Medicaid and other insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the CLASS Act would save $58 billion and could lead to a reduction in Medicaid spending by $2.5 billion over ten years.
This is the first time the CLASS Act has appeared in major health care reform legislation. Senator Kennedy had stated that he would not support a health reform package that did not include long-term care coverage. As our summer wraps up, we need to continue the momentum that Senator Kennedy started to help ensure that long-term care coverage is included in health care reform.
“An essential element of health care reform is ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to coverage that meets their care needs. For persons with disabilities and chronically ill older Americans—arguably the most vulnerable populations in the nation—long-term services and supports are their primary unmet care need, and are critical to promoting health and preventing illness. Real health care reform must not leave out the largest coverage gap in our current system.”(Letter to President Obama in Support of the CLASS Act, March 2009)
“Dear Mr. Sola:
I know you left last week’s health care reform town hall in Romulus without answers to your question about what the bill does to help people with disabilities…. In our exchange, I mentioned an amendment that I offered that would help disabled Americans, like your son, Scott. That amendment is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which would create a new, voluntary national insurance program for adults who become functionally disabled. This legislation will preserve the dignity of people who, despite their functional impairments, wish to continue living the American Dream—working, supporting their families, and living at home. This amendment, which I cosponsored with Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), passed by voice vote on day three of the healthcare markup.” (Open Letter by Congressman Dingell to a Constituent, August 2009)
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