The Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee have, as I expected, included three key long-term care services proposals in their massive 615-page health reform bill. The measure would require states to offer the same access to home and community care as they currently provide for skilled nursing facilities under Medicaid. It would provide new incentives for training both paid and family caregivers. And, the bill includes Senator Ted Kennedy’s CLASS Act, which would create a national long-term care insurance program. 

It is hard to overestimate just how far-reaching these changes would be. In my new book, Caring for Our Parents, I discuss each of these ideas. The long-term care training proposal has a good chance of passing this year. The Medicaid changes may be quite costly–as much as $5 billion-a-year–and supporters will have to compete for scarce dollars with dozens of other health reform proposals. The CLASS Act may face the longest odds this year, but at the very least it will focus a tremendous amount of attention on the critical issue of how we pay for long-term care.

Unfortunately, the Democratic leaders of three House committees also laid out their broad blueprint for health reform, but said barely a word about long-term care. Except for worker training incentives, reforms aimed at caring for the disabled as well as the the frail elderly seem to be on the back-burner.

But remember, this is just the first leg in what will be a very long race. Congress will be debating health reform at least through the end of this year.