After a 19-month review, the Obama administration has concluded that it can't implement the CLASS Act, the community-based long-term care program that was the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's most heartfelt contribution to the Affordable Care Act.
"What we've determined at this point... is that we do not have a path to move forward," Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee told reporters in a Friday afternoon conference call. "And that's what my recommendation has been to the secretary, and her recommendation to Congress."
It's not quite right to say the administration has pulled the plug on the measure, which is supposed to provide a modest cash benefit to the elderly for the purchase of long-term care services at home. It's more like they've put it in a medically induced coma while officials try to figure out if a cure can be found for what ails CLASS, or the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program.
The biggest problem, of course, is the fact that the CLASS program, which is voluntary, could wind up with only people most likely to need the benefit signing on. That would drive the premiums sky high.
But while the inability of officials to devise a program that is "actuarially sound for the next 75 years," which is what the law requires, makes proceeding with implementation impossible at the moment, wrote HHS Secretary in her letter to lawmakers informing them of the administration's decision, she was equally clear that they are not seeking repeal of the measure, either.
"The challenge that CLASS was created to address is not going away," Sebelius wrote. "By 2020 we know that an estimated 15 million Americans will need some kind of long-term care and fewer than three percent have a long-term care policy."
The seniors group AARP urged the administration to keep searching for a way to make CLASS viable. "A path forward is essential because the need for long term care will only continue to grow," said a statement from AARP's Joyce A. Rogers, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs.
Republicans, however, who vehemently opposed CLASS from the start, were quick to crow about its demise.
"This is a victory for the American taxpayer and future generations," said a statement from Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican. Thune has been among the leaders of the GOP efforts to discredit the program.
Added Rep. Phil Gingery (R-Ga.), "during this economic crisis, Congress must focus on eliminating the waste and fraud already present in our Medicare system before implementing unnecessary programs that cannot function without massive taxpayer bailouts."
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