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Lawmakers Get Emotional About CLASS

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Members of the House Ways and Means Committee agreed Thursday at a markup on H.R. 1173 — a bill that’s supposed to kill off the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program — that they have to do something else about long-term care (LTC).

The lawmakers voted 23-13 to approve the H.R. 1173, the Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act bill. The only committee member who crossed party lines was Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who voted for the bill.

Many other Democrats at the markup said that they believe the CLASS program law has problems, but they expressed sadness at the idea of officially repealing the CLASS law without creating an alternative.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the highest-raking Democrat, said private long-term care insurance (LTCI) now pays for only about 7% of U.S. long-term care services, while Medicaid is spending more than $100 billion per year on LTC services.

Levin and other Democrats suggested that repealing CLASS without providing an alternative seems to be a cynical, partisan action.

“I can see the headlines coming,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. “I can see what this is about. It’s another PR stunt. I’m sure Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the other news reporters will have great fun with this stunt.”

Republicans argued that officially repealing the CLASS Act is more than a partisan ploy, and that leaving the program in a state of unimplemented limbo could lead to complications, such as the possibility that a lawsuit could force HHS to implement the program.

Some Republicans talked about their own parents’ experiences with LTC and said they care deeply about developing an alternative to the CLASS program.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., the sponsor of H.R. 1173 and a medical doctor, said that he had treated hundreds of patients who needed LTC and that he had had to help get LTC for two of his own family members.

One solution to reforming the system would be to change the laws governing private LTCI, Boustany said.

“We should work together in a bipartisan way to make this easier to purchase and more affordable,” Boustany said.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said he wishes lawmakers could add an amendment to the bill stating that they have agreed to address the LTC crisis.

“Sometimes,” Rangel said, “no matter how much we try to work together, the politics of the majority, and the minority, overwhelms our ability work together.”

The CLASS Act, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), was supposed to create a voluntary LTC program for most working Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) actuaries agreed with Republican critics of the CLASS Act that there appears to be no way to implement the program without creating a “death spiral” that would lead to ever dwindling enrollment and ever escalating rates.

HHS officials said they had suspended efforts to implement the program.

Ways and Means is one of several committees looking at H.R. 1173, and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said the committee had to act by Feb. 1 to keep its referral for the bill.