LTCI Watch: Even Eskimos Loathed Senilicide

I wrote a story about the House Ways and Means Committee markup of H.R. 1173 -- the CLASS Act killer  bill the other day -- and I struggled mightily, maybe not all that successfully, to insert the video into the story.

Real Washington reporters tend to be rather cynical about all the talking that goes on during a hearing or markup. They focus with eagle eyes on whether the bill will pass or not, not on the lawmakers' allegedly personal anecdotes about their Great Aunt Ida back home on the homespun quilt farm.

But I'm a sentimental Kansas City girl. I got choked up one time when I got to tramp around in a congressional office building (at least, for the first mile or two), and it seems to me that, if you can get the video of H.R. 1173 markup to play properly, that's also moving.

Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., have always hated the well-intentioned but almost-certainly-death-spiral-inducing voluntary long-term care (LTC) benefits program tht the CLASS Act was supposed to create, and he and colleagues such as Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., who introduced H.R. 1173, also, quite understandably, loathe the process that Democratic congressional leaders used to ram the CLASS Act and the rest of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) down their throats.

Republicans contributed to their being shut out in the summer of 2009 by showing no inclination for any health bill the Democrats supported, no matter what the Democrats did to accommodate them. But the Democratic congressional leaders threw battery acid on the open wounds, not entirely because they wanted to depress and enrage Republicans, but because the real battle that summer was between ordinary liberal Democrats and Democrats who were somewhat to the left of Fidel Castro.

Now, from the Democratic perspective, House Republicans seem to be proposing a CLASS killer bill that appears to have little hope of getting through the Democratic-controlled Senate for the sheer joy of getting headlines indicating they have stomped on part of PPACA and smashed it flat on the sidewalk like a mashed slug.

"I can see the headlines coming," Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said. "I can see what this is about. It's another PR stunt."

But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., talked about the death of Ed Jenkins, a well-liked Democrat from Georgia who had once served on Ways and Means, and many present, both Democrats and Republicans, talked about the difficulties they'd had with dealing with LTC and end-of-life issues for their loved ones.

The Republicans seem to want to do more to promote ownership of private long-term care insurance (LTCI), but one thing I thought was interesting was that no one on the committee seemed to be inclined to dismantle the Medicaid nursing home program for the indigent or to come close to advocate putting the elderly out on the modern equivalent of ice floes.

Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter and editor of Laura Ingalls Wilder and one of the founders of the modern Libertarian movement, is famous for never paying into Social Security or taking benefits out.

But Ayn Rand eventually did use Social Security and Medicare in her later years, and it seems hard for even the most fervent advocates of libertarian to be comfortable with the idea of letting elderly people who can no longer live alone fend for themselves.

Apparently, even the tale the Eskimos commonly put their elderly on ice floes is a myth. Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope columnist, looked into the matter

and found that some Eskimos occasionally put the elderly out on ice floes or otherwise left them to their fate during times of terrible famines, but that many other Ekimos despised that practice.

Republicans on Ways and Means called for an effort to find common ground. Democrats called for an effort to find common ground. No one at the markup seemed to acknowledge what any bit of common ground might be.

I think one place to start is that, whatever is wrong with our economy, whatever programs will go broke, we have to do something.

Making promises we can't possibly keep is not an acceptable option, but neither is letting ice floes become our alternative to having a sustainable LTC financing system in place.

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