The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act is currently in both the House and Senate healthcare reform bills. Its purpose is to increase access to long-term care.

The CLASS Act would create a voluntary long-term care and disability benefit for workers. Panelists at a briefing on January 5, 2010 state that more actions need to be taken to overcome problems facing the field. Those panelists agree the bill benefits the long-term care field but they suggest other ways to improve the industry as a whole.

One of the panelist identified the need for expanding the long-term care workforce and providing increased education and training. Another panelist stated there should be additional funding available for existing programs to strengthen the relationship between family caregivers and formal caregivers.

Supporters of the Act state that it will help seniors and the disabled pay for things such as in-home caretakers all while supposedly lowering the federal budget deficit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that over the first decade the CLASS Act would lower the federal deficit by $72.5 billion. Others state that the CBO used some creative math to come up with that “savings” and that after the first decade of the program, costs would actually increase.

The CLASS program is voluntary and open to all Americans and various government analysts estimate that 2-6% of those eligible will sign up for the program. CMS’ analysis of the CLASS provision in the House bill finds that there is a significant risk that the CLASS program will become unsustainable and is at risk for failure. CMS calculated that the CLASS program’s premiums could initially be as high as $180 a month.

James Firman, President and CEO of the National Council on Aging, has countered the critics in a letter to the Wall Street Journal stating that there are several safeguards within the CLASS Act to guarantee that the program is solvent over a 75 year period after the addition of an amendment of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) that the critics fail to mention. He states that few understand that the program would be self-funded, would promote personal responsibility, would create a new private supplemental market and would prohibit taxpayer dollars being used to pay for benefits. Firman says that the CLASS Act also has the potential in health reform to bend the Medicaid cost curve downward.