Gregg is wrong on health reform
In a recent op-ed piece in the Concord Monitor, U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg referred to the health-care reform bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate as a “disaster.” The senator went on to complain about partisanship and lamented that it would take “Sherlock Holmes armed with the latest GPS technology and a pack of bloodhounds to find ‘reform’ in the latest version of the health-care bill.”That is colorful commentary from our senior senator, but it also is not accurate. The Senate health reform bill does indeed include many reforms and innovations that will lay the foundation for the needed overhaul of our broken health-care system. One such reform takes on the important issue of supporting the long-term care needs of persons with disabilities and seniors.The Senate bill contains a provision called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which creates a voluntary, government-administered long-term care insurance program that all workers may choose to contribute to. After making contributions through payroll deductions for five years or longer, an individual who develops conditions that limit two or more activities of daily living may draw upon these funds to help them purchase services and supports that will allow them to continue living in the community rather than in an institution.You may be asking, “Why do we need a government administered long-term care insurance program when there are already many private long-term care insurance plans available?”For “healthy” applicants, a private policy will allow them to get the assistance they need without impoverishing themselves. Currently, however, a person who already has a disabling condition or a condition that could progress into one will be denied a private long-term care policy. When and if such people need assistance with activities of daily living, they are forced to impoverish themselves forever in order to qualify for Medicaid, the only insurer that will cover their long-term care needs.The CLASS Act recognizes the unfairness of this situation and offers the one in five folks who have or will have a disability to work, save money and have the security of knowing that help will be available to allow them to remain independent in their communities.This past summer, Senator Gregg supported the CLASS Act. He said, ”The program keeps people off Medicaid, out of institutions and saves the federal government dollars as people can rely on these funds for a long period of time living where they want to live.”Now Senator Gregg has reversed his position on the CLASS Act, railing against it on the Senate floor and even supporting a failed attempt to remove it from the Senate health care bill. He now claims, according to his press secretary, that the health-care bill “raids the funds paid into the CLASS Act to pay for another brand new entitlement – the Democrats’ 2,074-page, $2.5 trillion health care bill.”The senator’s assertion that funds paid into the CLASS Act would be spent on other programs is false. In fact, in order to guarantee that does not happen, the Senate voted to ensure that funds collected under the plan would only be used to pay out benefits under the plan and not be used to cover other government obligations.The more likely reason for Senator Gregg’s change of heart on the CLASS Act, and the Senate health-care reform bill in general, is that rather than exercising New Hampshire independence he decided to join his Republican colleagues in the Senate who have made it clear they will vote against any type of health-care reform. In so doing, he is siding with the insurance industry, which opposes this provision, rather than with his constituents, who really need it.Senator Gregg, the CLASS program will help New Hampshire residents prepare for their long-term care needs. Please do not stand in the way of those who know that it is time to move beyond partisan politics and fix America’s broken health-care system.Clyde E. Terry is chief executive of Granite State Independent Living.