The New Year’s budget agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff includes two key measures that could be critical to people receiving long-term supports and services and their caregivers. The first repeals the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act. The second creates a new national commission to develop a plan for better financing and delivery of long-term care services.
Unfortunately, there may be less than meets the eye to both of these long-term care provisions. The CLASS Act had already been abandoned by the Obama Administration. And the commission, sadly, seems like a classic congressional study, destined to gather dust on a bookshelf somewhere.
The repeal of CLASS was hardly a surprise. The measure, a piece of the 2010 health reform law, was supposed to create a new national, voluntary long-term care insurance system. But it was roundly criticised by Republicans and had little support among Democrats.
Most important, actuaries found that, without substantial changes, the program’s premiums would be far too expensive for most buyers and projected it would be financially unsustainable. As a result,more than a year ago, the Obama Administration refused to implement the program. Its repeal was widely expected. The only real question was when and how would it be killed.
At first glance, the budget agreement includes an important trade-off–the creation of a national long term care commission. The idea of such a panel has been pushed for a couple of years now by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
The 15-member panel would include members appointed by the White House as well as Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. Its ambitious goal: To “develop a plan for the establishment, implementation,and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality system that ensures the availability of long-term services and supports for individuals in need of such services and supports… and individuals desiring to plan for future long-term care needs.”
Panel members are to reflect the interests of recipients of care, their caregivers, providers, care workers, long-term care insurance companies, and state Medicaid officials.
It all sounds great–and long overdue. The country has not taken a comprehensive look at the long-term care needs of frail seniors and younger people with disabilities since the Pepper Commission more than two decades ago. Yet, there are elements in the measure creating this panel that are very troublesome.
The first is that is it on very tight time frame. Members must be picked within a month and the panel must submit a proposal to Congress and the White House within six months after that. It is hard to imagine any group solving issues this complex in just six months.
Second, the commission would live in the bureacratic ether. It has no connection to the Department of Health and Human Services or any other federal agency. This can be good, in that it may avoid long-standing bureaucratic turf wars. But is more often bad, because it means the commission has no natural supporters inside an Administration.
Finally, and most important, the law includes no requirement that Congress ever actually vote on the panel’s recommendations. This is an old Washington trick, and one that usually consigns commissions such as this and their proposals to the policy dustheap.
I hope I’m wrong and this commission does tackle these critical issues. We’ll know a lot more when we see who is appointed to the panel. But I don’t have high hopes.