On Wednesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives took a major swipe at President Obama's health care law, as it voted to repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Support program (known as the CLASS Act). CLASS is, by all accounts, a financially-troubled and complex portion of the controversial overhaul; it deals with providing affordable, long-term care insurance to Americans in need.
This provision in the health care law has been troublesome for some time now. Back in October, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she wasn't able to find a way to make the voluntary program financially solvent. But the White House, despite these challenges, hasn't yet been supportive of repealing it.
Under the program, workers would pay a monthly premium during their careers and collect a daily cash benefit if they become disabled later in life. The White House describes the program as follows:
The Act provides Americans with a new option to finance long-term services and care in the event of a disability.
It is a self-funded and voluntary long-term care insurance choice. Workers will pay in premiums in order to receive a daily cash benefit if they develop a disability. Need will be based on difficulty in performing basic activities such as bathing or dressing. The benefit is flexible: it could be used for a range of community support services, from respite care to home care.
No taxpayer funds will be used to pay benefits under this provision. The program will actually reduce Medicaid spending, as people are able to continue working and living in their homes and not enter nursing homes. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure its premiums are enough to cover its costs.
The Associated Press further explains the plan:
The CLASS Act was supposed to address the crisis in long-term care coverage. Currently some 10 million Americans need long-term care, and that number is expected to hit 15 million by 2020. But only about 8 percent of people buy private long-term care insurance.
...monthly premiums would be used to finance benefits of at least $50 a day for those needing long-term care. The money would go for services at home or to help with nursing home bills.
But government actuaries determined that unless a large number of healthy people signed up, premiums would have to soar to unaffordable levels to meet the growing needs of the disabled.
"House Republicans voted to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act last year, but Democrats stood behind the president in defense of their landmark bill. Now, Republicans are trying to take it apart, piece by piece," ABC News reported.
The vote to strike down the act ended with 267 for and 159 against, as 28 Democrats joined in favor and all 239 voting Republicans showed their support for it.
Republicans have targeted the program as part of their overall goal of dismantling the health care overhaul law. Action on the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate is uncertain. One of the few changes Congress has been able to bring about concerned a requirement for small businesses to file more health care paperwork.
"Republicans are committed to repealing and defunding it, piece by piece if necessary," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said of the health care bill after the CLASS Act vote.
Experts have concluded, said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., that "the CLASS program can't be operated without mandatory participation so as to ensure its solvency." Unless it is terminated, he said, "it poses a clear danger to the fiscal health of our budget and to the American taxpayer."
The administration finally has come to the conclusion "that we knew even before the bill passed, that this was unsustainable, it was unworkable, it was fatally flawed," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La.
But Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Republican goal was to "tear down and dismantle programs that provide health care in the United States." He said "the solution is to amend the program to make it work, not just repeal it and leave nothing in its place."
Waxman isn't alone in his criticism. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) penned an op-ed for Politico that railed against the Republican action:
In the past, lawmakers would have worked together to amend existing law to address a serious national crisis like long-term care. But in our charged partisan environment, too many people would rather score political points than solve problems. They view repealing CLASS as a tactical step toward undermining health care reform – without putting forward any real alternatives for families who have nowhere to turn.
Repealing CLASS won’t do anything to solve our nation’s long-term care crisis. Legislation rarely starts out perfectly – indeed, the Republicans’ own Medicare prescription drug bill left a huge coverage gap, forcing seniors to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket. It is only because Democrats rejected the “throw out the baby with the bathwater” approach to legislating, and figured out a solution, that this gap will finally be closed and seniors can save millions on prescription drugs.
More evidence that the battle over the American health care system is far from over.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.