The nation has no viable strategy to help people finance their long-term care

A version of this article originally appeared in Roll Call on February 4, 2013.

The enactment of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 averted the so-called fiscal cliff, but it also repealed the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act that was intended to create a public mechanism to help people pay for long-term services and supports if they become disabled.

The repeal was not a surprise. More than a year ago the administration abandoned plans to implement CLASS after it became clear that premiums for the program as designed — with participation to be voluntary rather than mandatory — would be too high to attract more than a tiny percentage of the population.

CLASS was flawed, but it was the first major effort in decades to provide an alternative to impoverishment and welfare for millions of working-age people who at some point will need long-term services and supports. With the decision to repeal CLASS rather than amend it, the nation has no viable strategy to help people finance their long-term care.

Meanwhile, the private long-term-care- insurance industry has imploded. Five of the top 10 carriers have left the market or are headed that way. Many of the remaining policyholders have seen sharp increases in premiums, and most Americans either feel they can’t afford or can’t qualify for today’s stand-alone products. The market has spoken, or at least mumbled.

So what comes next? In repealing CLASS, Congress created a commission to “develop a plan for the establishment, implementation, and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality system that ensures the availability of long-term services and supports for individuals.” The commission also is charged with making recommendations to improve the size, skill and labor market conditions of the long-term-care workforce.

The commission has been given all of six months to come up with recommendations and legislative language on issues that have stymied policymakers for decades — at a time when Washington remains locked in deficit reduction mode. The commission could suggest fixes that would make CLASS financially solvent, but such changes likely would go nowhere in a political climate focused on deficit reduction and proposals that have the potential to shift more, not less, of the financial risks of aging to individuals.

Optimism about the commission is not high. Its resources will be few and there is no commitment from Congress to vote on recommendations. Congress needs to step forward and provide leaders from both parties to champion the recommendations, lend key staff members to advise the commission in shaping politically palatable solutions, and then agree to give the ideas an up-or-down vote.

Are there policy solutions that help people prepare for the potential need for long-term care beyond urging them to save more? One much-praised feature of our federalist system is the opportunity for states to function as “laboratories of democracy” by launching novel social and economic experiments that, if successful, can then be adapted and implemented nationwide.

Policymakers in Hawaii have just heard from their own long-term-care commission whose excellent final report recommends a mandatory social insurance program that would provide a monetary benefit for people needing long-term services and supports. The mandatory program has modest ambitions, but it would help many older Hawaiians avoid or delay staying in a nursing home; it likely also would reduce the growth in Medicaid expenditures.

Click here to view the original article in Roll Call.

Update: Since this was published in Roll Call, several individuals have been appointed to the congressional Commission on Long-Term Care, including NASI board member Judith Feder, Professor, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and member Judith A. Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.

Posted on: February 6, 2013


  1. Lee Goldberg February 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your thoughtful
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Martha. Certainly, one consequence of “re-balancing” is the need for families to provide more, not less, informal care. If the past is any indicator, this unfortunately falls more on daughters than sons. It will be interesting to see if this changes given labor force participation by women, stagnant wage growth, and the need for families to have two wage earners. More creative ways are needed to strengthen the bonds between generations at the end of life, and it is not clear if the rest of society wants to make room for that. There are a lot of “hidden” issues that a commission could take up!

  2. Bernadette Wright February 27, 2013 at 10:06 am - Reply

    I hope that this new
    I hope that this new commission will build on the work of the many other stakeholder workgroups that have already developed recommendations for solving these problems.

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