California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Lawmakers Question Sebelius on Future of Reform Law’s CLASS Act

More than one dozen members of Congress on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for an explanation on the future of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, Modern Healthcare reports (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 9/22).

Background on CLASS Act

The CLASS Act, created by the federal health reform law, would provide insurance to workers if they become unable to care for themselves because of injury or illness.

Last week, questions were raised about the future of the program after an email from Bob Yee, the chief actuary of the office in charge of the program, indicated the office was closing and that he was leaving his position. HHS denied reports that the office was shutting down, calling the allegations a "rumor" and noting that the administration still was analyzing whether the program should continue.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats last week removed all funding for the CLASS program from a Labor-HHS spending bill, saying that "implementation has been delayed." The Obama administration had notified lawmakers that funding for the program would not be needed in fiscal year 2012. The program -- for which the administration had requested $120 million -- originally was scheduled to launch in October 2012 (California Healthline, 9/23).

Details of Letter

The 10-page letter demands more information about rumors that the agency plans to shut down the CLASS office and asks more than two dozen questions about the program's future. The lawmakers have asked Sebelius to respond by 5 p.m. on Oct. 6.

"These developments raise important questions about the future of the CLASS program, as well as whether the public has been fully informed about the administration's views on this costly program," the lawmakers wrote (Modern Healthcare, 9/22).

Lawmakers Comment on Plans

A number of lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have criticized the plans to scale back the implementation of CLASS and are pushing the administration to continue executing the program despite concerns about its fiscal sustainability, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who sponsored legislation to establish the program, said ending CLASS would be a "huge mistake," adding, "Obviously the administration has put some kind of hold on it ... but beyond that I'm going to continue to press them to implement it as soon as possible."

However, other lawmakers are not surprised that the administration is putting the program on pause.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said the program likely will not be successful, citing findings that say it is not financially viable. He added, "It's unfortunate because it tries to address a real need. The problem is what was put in place doesn't work, it doesn't add up."

Possible Future for Program

Meanwhile, some patient and health care advocates say that the administration could carry out CLASS even without the $120 million appropriation next year, "Healthwatch" reports.

According to the advocates, the administration could follow a timeline proposed by HHS to set up various elements of the program, including its health IT system, and an education and information campaign to encourage enrollment. Proponents of the program are arguing that it is a good model that could work if the administration continues to support it (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/25).

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