One of the most important initiatives included in the Senate HELP Committee’s health reform bill is the “CLASS Act,” authored by Senator Kennedy. CLASS stands for Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, and the proposal is a long-term care insurance plan to help those with functional impairments pay for support services while allowing them to remain independent, employed and a part of their community (read a summary here). Senator Kennedy insisted that long-term care assistance be included in any national health reform bill.
When the bill was introduced, Senator Kennedy said, “Too many Americans are perfectly capable of living a life in the community, but are denied the supports they need. They languish in needless circumstances with no choice about how or where to obtain these services — this is an issue I intend to address in the reform of the nation’s health care system. Too often, they have to give up the American Dream – the dignity of a job, a home, and a family – so they can qualify for Medicaid, the only program that will support them. The bill we propose is a long overdue effort to offer greater dignity, greater hope, and greater opportunity.”
As the Medicare Rights Center reminds us,
“Currently there are 10 million Americans in need of long-term care services and supports, and the number is expected to continue to increase. Too often, many of these individuals are forced to quit their jobs and spend down their income and assets, just so they can qualify for Medicaid in order to get long-term care. These folks often end up in nursing homes because they are offered or have no other alternatives.
“The CLASS Act would create a new national insurance fund for long-term care services by enrolling eligible workers into the program, unless they choose not to be enrolled. Financed through payroll deductions, the fund would provide a lifetime benefit ranging from $50 per day to $100 per day, depending on the needs of the person. This cash benefit would provide the recipient a great deal of independence and control over the care to be received and allow individuals to choose to remain at home and active in their communities.”
The CLASS Act is one of the little-known components of federal reform. Its inclusion in the final bill would be a part of the way we honor Senator Kennedy.