CLASS Act announcements expected shortly

The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce "in the coming weeks and months" who will be heading the health reform law's long-term insurance program, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Evaluation Richard Frank.

Frank said HHS should shortly name an administrator and a location for the CLASS Act program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Administration on Aging are said to be in the running to host the program, which would also have repercussions on which congressional committees have jurisdiction.

The federal program will pay beneficiaries $50 a day for home-health, assisted-living and nursing home care if they've contributed premiums for at least five years and have a qualifying disability. Regulations putting the program in place are expected in 2012.

Frank, speaking Friday at an Alliance for Health Reform briefing, also said the federal government is facing "challenges" in implementing the program, chief among them making it easy for employers to get on board. The program calls for voluntary participation by employers; if they sign up, their employees are automatically enrolled unless they opt out.

Officials must figure a way to help employers "get a lot of information about people potentially, to set premiums and to do withholdings that they don't normally collect," Frank said. "So one of the things we need to figure out in implementing this program is how do we make it easy for employers to, at low-cost and low-hassle, administer what is a more complicated premium withholding structure than (they're used to)."

Frank repeatedly said that the secretary has "broad authority" to retain the program's solvency, a key concern of critics who argue that the program will attract relatively sick people and won't be able to sustain itself.

"The law requires that (the program) be self-sustaining over 75 years," Frank said. "Premiums will not be increased for individuals unless the secretary, along with the advice of her actuaries, determines that it is required in order to preserve the solvency of the program."

He said there's no talk of making the program mandatory if too few employees sign up to keep it afloat. 

"I've heard no discussions about that," he told The Hill. "It's not at all part of the law - it's a voluntary program. I think you'd need to change the authorities in the bill. I think you'd have to do it through legislation."