Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

The CLASS Act is great news to those of us in the home care field. As a private duty provider with 27 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 CLASS Act, a federal program created as part of national healthcare reform legislation in 2010, will make about $27,000 per year in assistance available to those who need it, taking a big chunk out of the financial obligation of long term care, according to the Private Duty Homecare Association.

According to a study from the SCAN Foundation (“Caring,” January 2010), Americans across all political views are concerned about the future of long-term care, which is critical in providing products and services to the aging population.  The study found that 92 percent of people surveyed said it is 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.

Without CLASS coverage or something similar in tandem with private insurance plans, increased spending on long term services would add $44 billion annually to the cost of Medicaid/Medicare over the next decade.  That increase corresponds with funding reductions in the same programs.

And here’s the cold reality. Federal programs don’t pay for as much in-home or nursing care as people hope. Paying for that care will quickly exhaust cash savings. Some people count on family to help, but some families are estranged or separated by distance. Some people don’t have family or friends to help at all

We are facing the exploding population of aging Baby Boomers and we are losing critical time in getting viable long term care programs up and running. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her staff at the Department of Health and Human Services need to wage a strong advocacy campaign to enlist employer support in making the CLASS Act available to thousands of employees.

Automatic enrollment is a must. It works for 401K type retirement plans. Up to 90 percent of employees who employers automatically enroll participate in a 401K plan, compared to about two-thirds who participate when they must enroll themselves.

It was originally estimated that the CLASS Act plan would open for enrollment in 2013, but would not pay out benefits for a minimum of five years, until 2018. Anyone who needs help before then is still on his or her own. This also assumes the program will have enough funding to support the growing need. If enrollment projections are off, the entire program could be cancelled by the federal government.

In the meantime, if you are looking at long term care options, seek market alternatives. Odds are good you will need some type of long term care. If you end up in an assisted living situation, what is available in your area? Do you have a spouse or partner who might also need care? If you have children, are any likely to help financially or provide direct care? How would you feel about having them attend to personal needs?

If you are an adult child of aging parents, you need to have a discussion with other family members about what’s practical and what you are capable of providing in an honest, realistic way.

We can all hope there are positive developments with the CLASS Act and support efforts to make it work, but hope is not a strategy.

For more information on the CLASS Act, visit http://www.advanceclass.org/

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

NEXT WEEK: The Fountain of Youth: Lessons from Jack LaLann

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