Why We Still Support the CLASS Act

Few Minutes with Larry Minnix | November 02, 2011

As media reports and congressional hearings continue about the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, Larry Minnix gives you LeadingAge's take on the status of CLASS.

As media reports and congressional hearings continue about the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, I wanted to be in touch to give you our take on the status of CLASS.

On Nov. 2, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced a unanimous consent bill in the U.S. Senate to repeal CLASS, but it was blocked by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). President Obama has said he does not favor repeal.

We were very disappointed when U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Kathleen Sebelius announced that she did not see a “viable path forward” for implementing the CLASS Act as drafted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

We could not disagree more.

Our opinion is shared by other experts, even ones within HHS. Our own Barbara Manard was involved in framing that legislation, which ensured maximum flexibility for HHS to devise a solution that would be available to all and financially sustainable.

Why LeadingAge Supports the CLASS Act

We chose to support the CLASS Act because it addresses a major uncertainty identified in our 2004 Scenario Planning exercise, and because it so closely resembles the principles from our Long-Term Care Finance Cabinet, chaired by Keith Perry. In its 2006 report, the cabinet made the following conclusion: 

“The nation should adopt an insurance model for financing long-term care, rather than relying so heavily on Medicaid—a pay-as-you-go welfare model that leaves many with unmet needs and requires that people impoverish themselves before qualifying. The need for long-term care is a risk, not a certainty, with catastrophic financial consequences for the unlucky. An insurance model can spread the risk more equitably and, if implemented in sufficient time, pre-fund the baby boomers’ coming explosive needs.”

The CLASS Act embodies that principle.

Following the task force's report, our board, under the leadership of Peggy Mullan and then Chair Tom Slemmer, decided to move forward with raising money to advance the creation of a national insurance program to help people plan and pay for their eventual long-term care needs.

David Ferguson, president/CEO of American Baptist Homes of the West, effectively raised the more than $2.5 million that helped us execute our own actuarial study, launch an education campaign and engage the lobbying support that helped get CLASS included in the Affordable Care Act.

LeadingAge Stands With the CLASS Act

We remain committed to the CLASS Act because it is the only existing framework for solving the problem of how we will pay more long-term services and supports in our country. As long as the CLASS Act is not repealed, we will advocate publicly for appointment of the CLASS Act Independent Advisory Council mandated in the legislation. That group will help with holding the administration accountable for complying with the law as well as with continuing actuarial studies to find a sustainable formula for the CLASS Act.

However, this is not our only approach. Our efforts around performing long-term services and supports financing have started a conversation about this issue that is unprecedented in our country. Our work raised the visibility of this issue to legislators and advocates who were not previously engaged in the debate.

We are leveraging this expanded interest to devise a new path. During an October 2011 U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on CLASS, I was encouraged to hear so many Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledging that this problem must be solved. We are reaching out to those leaders and asking the essential question: If not CLASS, then what?

LeadingAge members' support of the Long-Term Care Solution campaign, and our advocacy around CLASS, made us a much stronger voice in Washington. We set out to get payment for long-term services and supports on the public agenda as health reform was developing, and we achieved that goal.

Groups like AARP and the long-term care insurance industry realized we meant business, because members like you put your money, advocacy and hard work behind this issue. We forged new partnerships with disability groups, and broadened our collective voice.

Our efforts attracted the attention of the SCAN Foundation, which invested more than $1 million in the creation of Advance CLASS, Inc., an independent organization dedicated not only to implementation of the CLASS Act, but also public education around planning and paying for long-term services and supports.

We are grateful for the support you provided in helping us execute the Long-Term Care Solution initiative. Your support embodies the strength of our association: members who believe in big solutions and who are committed to making those solutions a reality.

We will not stop our work until every American has the opportunity to choose and pay for the options that they want as they age or become disabled. That is what we mean by expanding the worlds of possibilities for aging. 

And we must help the country answer this question: If not CLASS, then what?