Rep. Neal: I support CLASS Act

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The Neal-Boustany bill tracks closely to legislation that has been around since 1994 and was championed in years past by former Reps. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.) and Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.). It would allow consumers to buy long-term-care policies through tax-free employer cafeteria plans and flexible spending arrangements, while improving consumer protections for long-term-care policyholders.

Neal barely lost the race to become the top Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee last year. He voted for the healthcare reform law both times it came up in the House.

HHS put the program on hold in October after failing to find a way to make the program sustainable, and Republicans since then have quickly rammed repeal through the Energy and Commerce Committee. House GOP leaders plan to bring repeal up in the Ways and Means Committee early next year and quickly bring it to a vote on the House floor, putting Democrats in the awkward situation of defending a program that the Obama administration says is unsustainable.

Neal's support of Boustany's bill comes at an awkward time because it gives Republicans more cover to repeal CLASS without looking like they have no alternative to the country's long-term-care crisis. Only about 8 million Americans have long-term care insurance to help pay for nursing home and similar services, which aren't covered by Medicare.

"I feel very strongly that we should repeal CLASS," Boustany said this week, "but we need to put things in place or start something in motion to improve prospects for people to buy long-term-care insurance."

The CLASS Act is a voluntary payroll deduction program that gives beneficiaries a $50 daily cash benefit if they become disabled after paying premiums for at least five years. Connie Garner, a former top health aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) who is helping build private-sector support for the CLASS Act, said the Boustany alternative was "no substitute at all for what was the policy intent of CLASS. Not even close."