By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House appeared to waffle Monday on the fate of a financially troubled long-term care program in President Barack Obama's health overhaul law, as supporters and foes heaped criticism on the administration.
At stake is the CLASS Act, a major new program intended to provide affordable long-term care insurance. Last Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration would not proceed with the plan because she has been unable to find a way to make the program financially solvent.
On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a ruling that cleared the way for repealing the CLASS Act, but the administration rejected that step — and created considerable confusion. Backers and opponents said the White House is trying to have it both ways.
"I feel like somebody just called me about how to do really good pet care after they shot my dog," said Larry Minnix, president of LeadingAge, a trade group representing non-profit nursing homes, which are strong supporters of CLASS.
Paying for long-term care for a frail, elderly family member is a major financial dilemma for America's middle class. Medicare only covers short-term nursing home stays, for patients in rehab. And to become eligible for Medicaid, people have to spend most of their assets, akin to impoverishing themselves. The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program was supposed to help provide an answer.
A long-standing priority of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, it was supposed to function as a self-sustaining voluntary insurance plan, open to working adults regardless of age or health.
Workers would pay an affordable monthly premium during their careers and could collect a modest daily cash benefit of at least $50 if they became disabled later in life. The money could go for services at home or to help with nursing home bills.