Long-Term Care Portion of Health Care Law Scrapped
reports, wire, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Obama administration ended a major benefit in the 2010 health care law on Friday, announcing that a program to offer Americans insurance for long-term care was simply unworkable.
The decision to give up on what was once touted as a key benefit of the law marks a major retreat for the Obama administration and a vindication for critics who immediately said the decision proved that the legislation is unsound and unsustainable.
It also struck a blow at a long-cherished goal of consumer advocates and liberal Democrats, especially the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who championed a government entitlement to help elderly Americans pay for home care or a nursing home.
Known as the Community Living Assistance Services (CLASS) Act, the program was intended to be purely voluntary and open to all working Americans. It would have provided a basic lifetime benefit of a least $50 a day in the event of disability, to be used for coverage of even nonmedical needs such as making a home wheelchair accessible or paying a caregiver.
In a letter to senior Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said such a benefit remains critical.
But she said the program could not have been structured to collect enough in premiums to remain solvent.
"For 19 months, experts inside and outside government have examined how (the Department of Health and Human Services) might implement a financially sustainable, voluntary and self-financed long-term care insurance program under the law," Sebelius wrote. "But despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation."
Republican critics urged even more aggressive action to eliminate the benefit.
"Simply setting aside the program for the near term is not enough," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "Repeal is the only solution to ensuring American taxpayers will not be on the hook in the future for this disastrous entitlement."
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., a leading proponent, criticized the Obama administration's decision and pledged to work to revive the program.
"The Obama administration is simply wrong," he said. "This is too important to give up."
White House officials said their decision will not affect other parts of the sweeping law, including preparations for a major expansion of health insurance coverage starting in 2014. …