House panel votes to repeal CLASS healthcare act

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 33-17 to repeal the healthcare reform law's long-term care CLASS Act on Wednesday, setting up a possible vote by the full House by year's end.

Democrats stayed largely united in support of the program, which the Obama administration has put on hold because it says it can't find a way to make it solvent. Only three Democrats - Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike Ross (Ark.) and John Barrow (Ga.) - voted to repeal the program; all three had voted against the healthcare reform law last year.

"We're moving forward on CLASS Act repeal and hope to take it up either in the next two weeks or early next year," a GOP leadership aide told The Hill on Tuesday.

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Republicans have used the repeal bill to bludgeon Democrats over their continued support for what even some Democratic senators have called a "Ponzi scheme." Democrats have countered that the GOP has no better alternative and should put something on the table before repealing the program.

Republicans however contend that repeal is necessary because the secretary of Health and Human Services would be in violation of the law unless she designates a benefit plan by Oct. 1, 2012. That could open the agency up to legal action, according to a recent Congressional Research Service memo to the committee.

"Assuming that the Secretary takes no further action to comply with the CLASS Act's statutory mandate to designate a benefit plan by October 1, 2012, the Secretary would appear to be committing a facial violation of the statutory requirement to designate such a plan," the report says. "Her failure to take such action conceivably could be challenged in court."

Republicans salvaged part of the program by reauthorizing its $3 million a year authorization for the national clearinghouse for long-term care information, which was created in 2005. Democrats wanted the money actually set aside, not subject to the annual appropriations process.

"We all know in this place a program without funding isn't much of a program," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)