Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission, have called the CLASS Act “unsustainable” and are proposing that it be either reformed or repealed. They say the national voluntary long-term care insurance program passed as part of this year’s health reform law “is viewed by many experts as financially unsound.”
The first version of the Bowles-Simpson plan, released last month, was silent about CLASS although sources were warning it was on the panel’s radar screen. However, in an effort to win votes from members who have been skeptical about CLASS since it was enacted, the co-chairs added their call to repeal or reform the law in a way that is “credibly sustainable over the long-term.”
Unfortunately, the co-chairs dodged the question of how they’d do that. And that was a serious mistake.
As regular readers of this blog know, I support the concept of CLASS but have argued since before it passed that it needs to be redesigned. The commission chairs provide no clues about how they would do that. Do they support a mandatory program? Would they make technical changes to try to make the insurance more attractive to buyers in a voluntary system? Do they really want to repeal the whole thing?
It is unlikely that the Bowles and Simpson deficit plan will even win the support of their own commission when the panel votes later this week. And if it did, it is hard to imagine Congress ever approving it. However, it is an indication of the mood of Washington these days, and of the discomfort over CLASS in the context of massive ongoing budget deficits. Most dangerous for the program, should Congress ever tackle the deficit, it is hard to see where CLASS would find the support it needed to survive an assault.