By: Rep. Ted Deutch
November 2, 2011 09:11 AM EDT
The Obama administration’s decision to stop our first real attempt to solve America’s long-term care crisis, by suspending the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, was met with predictable jubilation by opponents of health care reform.
Yet even as my Republican colleagues hail this as proof that the Affordable Care Act will not work, what they don’t realize is that it shows that the opposite is true. CLASS was included in the Affordable Care Act as long as it could be financially self-sustaining. The administration’s difficulty achieving that goal is proof that individual insurance mandates, first championed by Republicans, all work.
Critics of CLASS cannot have it both ways. You cannot fault it for lacking the means to ensure a diverse, financially-stable, healthy risk pool while you challenge the Affordable Care Act for doing just that. CLASS provided Americans with an affordable but voluntary long-term insurance option.
Preventing adverse selection — the challenge arising when only those already needing long-term care seek to buy insurance — would have to be addressed during implementation.
While the administration has yet to endorse any measures encouraging the widespread adoption of long-term care insurance, I join the CLASS actuary and advocates in believing they have not only a statuary authority but a statuary obligation to pass measures thwarting adverse selection and to move forward implementing this important law.
The sad truth is that those now young and able won’t always be. Everyone needs long-term care insurance, because no one is immune from disabling injuries or incapacitating disorders. If that is not compelling enough — the inevitability of aging should be.
Just 5 percent of Americans carry long-term care insurance, despite the fact that 70 percent will someday need long-term care. The reality that everyone else relies on Medicaid is why a third of this federal- and state-funded entitlement program is spent on long-term care.
Relying on Medicaid is unsustainable and costly. It essentially encourages seniors to spend themselves into poverty to qualify for Medicaid. Save nothing, pass what you have to your children before you fall ill, own little property — and you will be eligible for the most expensive long-term care around, paid for by Medicaid.
We can cut entitlement spending by steering long-term care away from the expensive, institutionalized nursing home care paid for by Medicaid and instead into a premium-financed social insurance program that encourages cost-effective, and far more popular, community and home-based care.
Having heard from seniors facing foreclosure due to their spouses’ nursing home expenses, and families desperate for a way to provide care to their ailing parents, I cannot accept just abandoning the CLASS Act. By improving this promising idea, we can reduce entitlement spending through Medicaid — and provide American families with greater financial security.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) serves on the House Judiciary Committee and on the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Seniors.