New voluntary disability insurance program would provide relief to millions of all ages

As part of national heath care reform, individuals will now have new access to the assistance they need to stay in their homes while simultaneously cutting health care costs by preventing institutionalization in hospitals or assisted living facilities.

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act creates a national, voluntary disability insurance program under which: (1) all employees are automatically enrolled, but are allowed to waive enrollment; (2) payroll deductions pay monthly premiums; and (3) two-tiered benefits are provided, based on the level of disability, to purchase non-medical services and supports that the beneficiary needs to maintain independence.

“This issue transcends individual politics,” says Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, President and Founder of At Your Home Familycare in San Diego, California. “Whether you support or oppose the recently passed national health care reform legislation, there is a basic issue we can all agree on. It is far more humane and cost effective to take care of people in home care and maintain their independence for as long as possible, as opposed to an acute care setting.

Passage of the CLASS Act is welcome news to those of us in the home care field. As a private duty provider with 26 years of experience, I welcome the CLASS Act as a simple, cost-effective program that will help millions of people get the assistance they need to stay in their homes while cutting health care costs at the same time.”

The need for services to support an aging and disabled population is expanding at a faster rate than ever before. Currently there are 10 million Americans in need of long term services and support, and the number is expected to increase to near 15 million by 2020.  In 2009, the market for in-home care nationwide hit approximately $15 billion.

According to a recent study from the SCAN Foundation (“Caring,” January 2010), Americans across all demographic groups are concerned about the future of long-term care, which is critical in providing products and services to the aging population.  92 percent of people surveyed say it’s important to improve coverage for services that help people remain in their homes instead of going into nursing homes; 90 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats say improving coverage to help people remain in their homes is important.

The CLASS Act will make about $27,000 per year in assistance available to those who need it and that would take a big chunk out of the financial obligation, according to the Private Duty Homecare Association.

Most private-sector disability or long-term care insurance plans are limited in the insurance protection they can offer at an affordable price. Many Americans who have or develop disabilities can only access coverage for the services critical to their independence such as housing modifications, assistive technologies, transportation, and personal assistance services through Medicaid.  This creates a strong incentive for them to “spend down” assets and remain poor and unemployed.

With Medicaid paying 50% of the costs of long term services, without CLASS coverage expenses in tandem with private insurance plans, increased expenditures on long term services would add $44 billion annually to the cost of Medicaid over the next decade, just as Medicaid funding is being reduced.

“I urge Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to implement the CLASS Act as swiftly as possible,” added Edwards-Tate.

NOTE: For more information on the CLASS Act, visit www.passtheclassact.org

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