Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Demise of CLASS

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010 he also established a national voluntary insurance program that would have allowed working individuals to purchase long term health related services and supports either directly, or through their employers.

The “Community Living Assistance Services and Support” or CLASS program was initiated in order to provide working adults with a basic cash benefit that was designed to offset the costs of non-medical care for adults with long-term disabling conditions, and was also intended to reduce consumers’ use of Medicaid. Individuals who were participating in the program and wished to remain in their communities would have been assisted with a cash stipend that could help pay for non-medical services such as home care, assistive technology, home modifications and adult day services. As part of a larger health insurance program CLASS’s specific intentions seemed like a smart and affordable winner for people and would also have helped to hold down rising Medicaid costs.

Or so we thought.

This week, after careful scrutiny, Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, determined that because the CLASS program was voluntary, it was much less financially viable. To maintain program affordability, solvency and ultimately survival, the CLASS program must attract large contributions from the participation of healthy working adults in addition to working adults with disabilities. The next anticipated budget (due out in January) from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office will no longer include the CLASS program.

Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute has estimated that over 10 million Americans currently need long term health related services and supports. As the aging population increases and the number of people with disabilities rises, affordable supplemental insurance will be needed more than ever in order to sustain individuals who don’t qualify for Medicaid, can’t afford long term health insurance, and want to remain at home. Paying for long term care remains a major life expense and is often a substantial financial burden for many Americans, especially seniors on fixed incomes. Medicare only provides brief limited coverage. In the end, if the CLASS program is purged from the Affordable Care Act, advocates for the disabled must continue to press on and make every effort to help uncover practical solutions that allow more individuals the free choice to remain fully independent.

-          Kate F.

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