I spent yesterday morning at a Kaiser Family Foundation panel discussion on the CLASS Act, the national long-term care insurance program being considered as part of health reform. The panelists, who included Senate Health Committee aide Connie Garner and a number of advocates for long-term care reform, were upbeat about the possibility that CLASS will be included in a final health bill. However, the idea still faces opposition from big private insurers.
Connie said the proposal continues to evolve, to satisfy both substantive and political concerns. However, its basic form remains unchanged: People would be able to participate as soon as they begin working, enrollment would be automatic, but they could choose to opt-out. Once they need care, they'd be eligible for an average minimum cash benefit of $50-a-day for life. The benefit would increase both with care needs and inflation.
It looks like the premium would now average about $120-a-month, twice what sponsors of the bill had first hoped. However, neither premiums nor benefits would be fixed in the legislation. Instead the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be given broad flexibility to design coverage.
While people would have to be actively working to be eligible for the insurance (a provision actuaries say is important to keep premiums relatively low), employers would not be required to offer a payroll deduction plan. This exemption could make enrollment complex and hold down participation.
We'll know within the next week or so whether CLASS will be included in the combined Senate bill. If it is, it will be a major step forward for the measure, which is already in the House version of health reform.