Fate of Reform Law’s Long-Term Care Program Remains Unclear
Questions were raised yesterday about the future of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, after an email from an official indicated the office in charge of theÂ program was closing, CQ Today reports (Ethridge, CQ Today, 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. Workers must pay into the program for five years before they can qualify for benefits.
Critics have questioned the CLASS Act's fiscal sustainability and called it an "accounting gimmick." They note that the program collects money only during the 10-year window CBO used to estimate the cost of the health reform law. HHS officials have acknowledged concerns about the CLASS program and have said they are considering changes to ensure its long-term fiscal health (California Healthline, 9/15).
Possible Signals of Office Closure
Bob Yee, the chief actuary for the office overseeing the initiative, on Thursday wrote in an email that he was leaving his position because "HHS has decided to close down the CLASS office effective [Friday]" (CQ Today, 9/22).
Yee added that eight members of the office staff had been or were in the process of being reassigned to different projects. Officials "just said they would take a pause" in working on CLASS, Yee explained (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/22).
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats on Wednesday evening removed all funding for the CLASS program from a Labor-HHS spending bill that passed that night, saying that "implementation has been delayed."
According to National Journal, 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 (McCarthy, National Journal, 9/22).
HHS Denies Closing of CLASS Office as 'Rumor'
On Thursday, HHS said the allegations were a "rumor" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/22).
The Wall Street Journal reports that HHS confirmed that the office's staff had been reduced but did not verify Yee's departure. Meanwhile, the agency denied reports that the office was shutting down, noting that the administration still was analyzing whether the program should continue (Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 9/23).
In a statement, HHS said, "It is an open question whether the program will be implemented," adding, "A CLASS program will only be implemented if it is fiscally solvent, self-sustained, and consistent with the statute" (CQ Today, 9/22).
That declaration echoes previous statements from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has said that CLASS will not go forward until it is financially sustainable (California Healthline, 9/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.