On July 6, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, expressing President Obama’s support for Kennedy’s “CLASS Act,” which would allow middle class Americans to set aside money from their paychecks in anticipation of the expenses they will likely face for long-term services and supports as they age, or acquire a disability. After paying into the fund for at least 5 years, workers or their non-working spouses could draw on the fund for long-term services and assistance, either in a nursing home or in the community. Workers who wish could opt out of the program, an outcome more likely in tough economic times or in cases where low worker-wages barely cover individual or family survival expenses.
“Those of us with disabilities, who are aging, and who aren’t able to work are outraged that the President has issued public support for this primarily middle class legislation, and has completely ignored the companion legislation that would include lower income disabled and older people in reform of long term services and supports, and health care reform,” said Bob Kafka, Texas ADAPT Organizer. “It’s like we don’t exist!”
ADAPT and a multitude of other national disability and aging organizations in Washington have gone on record in support of Sen. Kennedy’s CLASS Act only if it is paired with a “fix” for Medicaid addressing lower income and non-working people, similar to provisions contained in the Community Choice Act (CCA). CCA inserts the concept of “personal choice” into the law, adding language that mandates states to pay for help in a person’s own home the same way the law mandates them to pay for nursing homes. Current law can force people with disabilities and who are aging into nursing homes in order to receive services that can just as easily be delivered in the community. Research has demonstrated that community-based assistance is almost always less expensive.
“When President Obama was a senator, he co-sponsored CCA,” said Dawn Russell, ADAPT Organizer from Denver Colorado, “and when he campaigned for the Presidency, he pledged to support CCA. But since he was elected, and we met with his people at the White House they told us that he will not include long term services and supports in health care reform. When we heard that, we expressed our disappointment and anger in a peaceful protest outside the White House. The President responded by having us arrested, and there were very heavy fines levied against us. It feels like the President is trying to intimidate and silence us so we won’t speak up for people with disabilities, people with low incomes, and those who are aging who are at risk of being forced into nursing homes under the current law.”
Because the CLASS Act does not address the Medicaid “institutional bias,” people who use up the benefits they save under the act will still face having to move to nursing homes to keep getting assistance, unless they can afford to stay in their own homes because of other resources they have.
“When I voted last November, I was sure I was voting for a great man who would bring freedom to people with disabilities,” said Bruce Darling, ADAPT Organizer from New York. “Just as President Lincoln freed the slaves, I felt that President Obama would free those of us with disabilities from the continued threat of incarceration in a nursing homes and institutions. Now, I feel like a fool, because this administration apparently cares nothing for us and has no respect for our freedom and our civil rights.”