October 26 2011
This morning, two subcommittees of the Energy and Commerce Committee hosted a hearing on the CLASS Act.
The CLASS Act (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act) was one of the nine titles in the Affordable Care Act, and – if you haven’t been watching the news lately – the program has recently been abandoned because HHS could not produce an actuarial model of the program’s long term sustainability. Congress doesn’t normally allow an executive department to simply stop implementing a law that’s been passed, but in this case, the law contained a self-test for the program before it could get started.
The two HHS officials who testified this morning – Kathy Greenlee (Asst. Sec. on Aging) and Dr. Sherry Glied (Asst. Sec. for Planning and Evaluation) – were definitely in the hot seat. Republicans interrogated them about the program’s un-sustainability, and Democrats let them know of their disappointment about the program’s abandonment.
But throughout the morning’s debate, there were a few valuable takeaways:
It’s clear that government isn’t going to be the solution to the problem of expensive long term care. Perhaps Congress could pass laws that create a better environment for consumers and patients (one Member, Dr. Burgess, suggested Americans be allowed to purchase long term care insurance with pre-tax dollars), but in the end, our government leaders need to eat some humble pie and realize that even government would have to imitate the private sector if economic reality and financial soundness were of first concern (as it is with CLASS, thanks to the Gregg Amendment).
The problem with programs like CLASS, and indeed the trouble with the entire health reform law, is that they come from an arrogant, power-hungry attitude among our leaders – an attitude that believes government alone can fix all of society’s problems.
This was clearly illustrated by one comment in today’s hearing that really and rightly ruffled my feathers. Rep. Dingell said:
“Republicans who want to repeal parts of this bill are trying to strip Americans of rights and opportunities we have given them.”
With all due respect to Rep. Dingell (currently our longest-serving Member of Congress), I must ask, who is this “we?” Democrats? Congress? Government? No. The answer is none of the above. Government doesn’t give rights. God gives rights. If we can’t get this basic founding principle right, then we’ll never get complex issues like health care policy right.
We can debate all day about what actuarial data was available when, or how financially sound or unsound the program might be, but the bottom line is this: It’s not government’s role to provide long term care insurance. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything you have.”