WASHINGTON – The White House appeared to waffle Monday on the fate of a financially troubled long-term care program in President Barack Obama’s health overhaul law, as supporters and foes heaped criticism on the administration.
At stake is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program (CLASS) Act, a major new program intended to provide affordable long-term care insurance. Last Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration would not proceed with the plan because she has been unable to find a way to make the program financially solvent.
On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a ruling that cleared the way for repealing the CLASS Act, but the administration rejected that step – and created considerable confusion.
“I feel like somebody just called me about how to do really good pet care after they shot my dog,” said Larry Minnix, president of LeadingAge, a trade group representing non-profit nursing homes, which are strong supporters of CLASS.
Paying for long-term care for a frail, elderly family member is a major financial dilemma for America’s middle class. Medicare only covers short-term nursing home stays for patients in rehab. And to become eligible for Medicaid, people have to spend most of their assets, akin to impoverishing themselves.
A long-standing priority of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, it was supposed to function as a self-sustaining voluntary insurance plan, open to working adults regardless of age or health.
Workers would pay an affordable monthly premium during their careers and could collect a modest daily cash benefit of at least $50 if they became disabled later in life. The money could go for services at home or to help with nursing home bills.
But a central design flaw dogged CLASS. Unless large numbers of healthy people willingly sign up during their working years, soaring premiums driven by the needs of disabled beneficiaries would destabilize it, eventually requiring a taxpayer bailout.
After months insisting that could be fixed, Sebelius finally acknowledged Friday she didn’t see how.
“Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time,” she said in a letter to congressional leaders.
Officials said they discovered they could not make CLASS both affordable and financially solvent while keeping it a voluntary program open to virtually all workers, as the law required.