Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Tuesday to approve legislation that would repeal a key portion of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law that is widely recognized to be untenable.
The committee voted 33 to 17 to repeal the CLASS Act, a long-term entitlement program that Republicans allege was used as a budget gimmick to make the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act seem financially sound.
In October, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius halted the CLASS Act, conceding that the program was unsustainable and would not save the $70 billion promised by the Congressional Budget Office. The vote paves the way for the House of Representatives to repeal the much-contested part of the health care law.
“None of us was surprised when HHS announced that it could not implement the CLASS program,” said Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the committee. “Well before it was signed into law, actuaries and policy experts questioned the viability of the program, but it made it into the healthcare law anyway, giving the false impression that the law cost $80 billion less than it actually did.”
The CLASS program would establish a long-term insurance program backed by the federal government to pay subscribers on a daily or monthly basis if they could not do basic functions like dressing themselves or preparing meals. Subscribers would have to pay into the program for five years before receiving any benefits.
Since the health care reform law passed, Medicare Chief Actuary Rick Foster has described the program as fiscally unstable, and North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called it a “Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing Bernie Madoff would be proud of.”
A September investigation chaired by Republican congressmen and senators found that internal documents and emails circulated by staff of HHS and Democratic members of Congress questioned the CLASS Act’s solvency, but advocates of the law promoted the program as healthy. No lawmakers or administration officials disclosed the program’s financial uncertainty to the public.
“I believe we have to start over on long-term care reform — an issue that will affect millions of Americans as they or a loved one need care,” Upton said in a statement. “But first, we must erase a program that we know will not work; a program that was never structured to work, and that we could never afford.”