House votes to repeal long-term-care program
■ Republicans want to end the health reform law's CLASS provision that has been deemed financially not viable, but Democrats hope to salvage it.
By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Feb. 9, 2012
Washington -- The House on Feb. 1 voted to repeal the long-term-care insurance program created by the health system reform law amid Democratic calls to save the coverage plan.
House Republicans have been sharply critical of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act. Opponents of the provision have called it a broken component of the Democrats' reform law that created the illusion of saving billions of dollars while providing much-needed care for the elderly and disabled. But independent actuarial analysis had determined that the new voluntary insurance program would not be viable over the long term.
The House voted 267-159, with some Democratic support, for legislation to repeal the act.
"This unsustainable program would have increased federal expenditures and debt and was deemed to be financially insolvent," said Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD (R, Ind.). "Repealing the CLASS Act is important to ensure it is not implemented at a future time, which would have added to the massive debts we currently face."
After the House vote, a Dept. of Health and Human Services spokesman questioned the need to repeal the assisted-living program when the department already had stated it would not implement the act. The reform law required the secretary to verify that the program would be fully paid for by premiums for 75 years, and that it would offer lifetime and cash benefits.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had told Congress that the long-term-care program was not actuarially sound, and the department suspended work on developing a plan in October 2011. At the time, she encouraged lawmakers, insurers and other stakeholders to develop an alternative policy that would address the 15 million Americans who are projected to need long-term care by 2020.
A 2011 MetLife survey on long-term-care costs found that a private room costs $87,235 a year, and average monthly community assisted living costs $41,724. Medicaid and Medicare spent $143 billion on long-term care in 2005, according to the Georgetown University Long-Term-Care Financing Project.
The CLASS Act would have given Americans the option to purchase long-term-care insurance coverage for as little as $5 a month. An enrollee would have needed to pay premiums for at least five years, amounting to at least $300, before he or she would be eligible for benefits.
House Democrats urged their colleagues to amend the long-term-care law, not repeal it. "Without the CLASS Act, or an alternative, people who struggle the most with daily tasks due to illness will be the ones to suffer," said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D, N.J.).
The House repeal measure faces opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate. After the vote, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, W.Va.) submitted an opinion article to the Arlington, Va.-based newspaper Politico stating that repealing the CLASS Act wouldn't solve a crisis in long-term care.
"There is a wide gulf between the current patchwork and a strong system that can meet the needs of millions of Americans who need long-term services and support, or who want to plan for the future," he said.