Friday, June 3, 2011

The CLASS Act and Older Americans

We are excited to have a guest post by Kate Josephson of Advance CLASS, Inc. as a follow up to our week-long blogging event.

The Boomer generation is creeping up in age and Medicare and Medicaid services are under fire. Everyone has heard what is happening on Capitol Hill these days – Congressman Ryan’s (R-WI) Budget Plan would turn Medicaid into block grants, causing long-term services to change in this country for anyone who depends on those supports to live in their community. Medicare coverage could also start to deteriorate. Just this past week, it was predicted by Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust that Medicare and Social Security are due to run out sooner than expected. What will our nation’s citizens do if the Treasury bonds used to fund these programs run out?

The Community Living Assistance Supports and Services Act (CLASS Act) was introduced in Congress by the late Senator Kennedy in 2005. It later became part of the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in March 2010. The idea of the CLASS Act is to help working Americans plan ahead to pay towards the cost of the home care or community assistance they may need if they develop a functional impairment. Anyone who is at least 18 years old and working can pay into the program for just five years to receive a lifetime benefit. The all-cash benefit of at least $50 per day can be triggered once an individual is unable to perform two or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or the cognitive equivalent.

Studies have found that as Americans age they prefer to stay in their homes if at all possible. Studies have also found that it is cheaper for older adults to remain in their homes than it is for them to move into nursing homes. The CLASS Act would allow an elderly person to remain in their home by being able to pay for a few hours of personal care attendant; or the person could save the cash benefit to pay for household changes or even supplement their nursing home care. Either way, home-based personal care would allow the affected individual would be able to remain a connected member of their community for as long as possible.

Throughout the past year, the CLASS Act has come under the scrutiny of Congress. It was blasted by Representative Phil Gingrey and was termed as a “Ponzi Scheme” by Senator Kent Conrad. In March, Representatives Gingrey and Boustany introduced legislation repeal the CLASS Act – however, they offered no plan to replace it. Even though many government officials are worried about the sustainability of CLASS, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has vowed, consistent with the mandate of the law, that she would not introduce an unsustainable product to the American people. The Obama Administration has continued to heed the call for people with disabilities and older Americans to be able to receive care without becoming poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid.

In the Spring of 2011, the Administration set up the Office of CLASS under the umbrella of the Administration on Aging (AoA). Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging is leading the office. Now that the office is up and running, older Americans and citizens with disabilities can be sure that their needs will be addressed for future generations. As the CLASS Act moves forward, there will be countless benefits for those people who choose to enroll. Many Americans have a difficult time planning for the future; many don’t like to think about it, and many are unaware of how to properly plan. The CLASS Act will give individuals the opportunity and guidance to be able to plan for their futures without taxpayer assistance. The choice to live your life as you choose is a fundamental cornerstone of this nation – it is time we made that choice available to all our citizens.

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