There is lots of quiet speculation in Washington about the fate of the CLASS Act in the wake of the huge Republican 2010 election day victory. Will CLASS be repealed? Will it be changed in any major way?
My best guess is that CLASS--the national voluntary long-term care insurance program passed as part of the 2010 health reform law--will neither be repealed nor fundamentally changed, despite the GOP threat to roll back the entire health law.
That is not to say conservatives won't try. Activists at the Heritage Foundation and elsewhere have called for repeal of CLASS, which they fear will turn into a new unfunded entitlement program. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has already introduced a bill to repeal the law.
Worse for CLASS backers, the law has no real advocate in Congress. No Democrat has stepped up to take ownership of the idea since its primary sponsor, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, died last year. Indeed, about a half-dozen Democratic senators opposed the provision when it was added to the health law.
There is a good chance the soon-to-be GOP-controled House will pass a repeal bill early next year. It would fit with the Republican vow to wipe out the entire health law and their special dislike of federal long-term care insurance. But even with strengthened GOP ranks in the Senate and the support of those Democrats, CLASS opponents remain far short of the 60 votes they'd need to repeal the law. And they''d need even more-- 67 votes-- to override a veto by President Obama. As one insurance lobbyist told me today, "CLASS isn't going to disappear."
Similarly, there is little chance Congress will gut the bill. Unfortunately, the new political environment also makes it extremely unlikely that Congress will improve those elements of CLASS that need to be fixed. As I have written before, there is a real question about how many people will buy CLASS policies, which are likely to cost an average of $100 or more per month.
Some changes in premium design and eligibility could help bring those premiums down. But given the hostility to the law on Capitol Hill, there is no chance the White House will ask Congress to make repairs. Those backers of CLASS who pushed to pass the law, flaws and all, in the expectation that they could fix it down the road are now stuck with the measure, flaws and all.