Members of the health subcommittee at the House Energy and Commerce Committee today passed H.R. 1173, a bill that would officially kill a federal voluntary long-term care (LTC) benefits program, by a voice vote.
H.R. 1173, the Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act bill, would repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program provisions that were part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA).
Lawmakers included the CLASS program in the act to honor the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who had worked for decades to try to improve the U.S. LTC safety net.
But critics in the LTC insurance (LTCI) community argued from the beginning that the combination of voluntary participation and loose underwriting rules would make the program unsustainable.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged in October that she could see no way to make the version of the program now described in the statutes work. HHS apparently has suspended implementation of the CLASS program.
Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., chair of the health subcommittee, says in a statement about H.R. 1173 that the CLASS Act is still on the books.
"The intent behind the CLASS program, a voluntary program for long-term care insurance, was laudable," Pitts says. "Good intentions, however, do not make up for fundamentally flawed, actuarially unsound policies designed to show the illusion of savings."
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., says many, including him, want to tackle the country's LTC challenges.
"Today, we voted to start over on long-term care reform—an issue that is important to all of us," Upton said. "We will begin that process, but first we must take CLASS off the books."
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Republicans on the subcommittee were being disrespectful to people like Kennedy.
Pallone noted that program designers had tried to make the program self-sustaining, so that participants would be taking personal responsibility for the benefits and not depending on government handouts.