Several advocacy groups have pledged support for new legislation that would provide more choices to adults with disabilities, but a union official says workers deserve more training and pay as part of a broader reform of the long-term-care system in the U.S.
Last week, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), along with Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) introduced the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, or CLASS, Act that would establish a national insurance program financed by a $30 payroll deduction to provide benefits to adults who become functionally disabled. Active workers 18 and older would automatically be enrolled, but may opt out. The insurance would be an alternative to the practice of spending down ones assets to qualify for Medicaid, the bills supporters said.
At a crowded hearing last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee listened to testimonies from home-health workers and family caregivers about the need for funding to help people with disabilities lead more independent lives. A news release from Kennedys office said that there are 10 million Americans who need long-term-care services and that number is expected to increase to about 15 million by 2020.
The bill would place the payroll deductions into a National Independence Fund that HHS would manage. It would include two tiers of benefits$50 or $100 per day depending on the severity of a patients disabilities.
Although the funding could go a long way toward providing alternatives for persons with disabilities, more work is needed to attract homecare workers, according to Gerry Hudson, international executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare, the healthcare arm of the Service Employees International Union that supports the bill.
I think we need to look at paying workers more, at training, at making sure long-term-care workers have a decent health benefit, Hudson said. The irony is they cant afford the services they providebut theyre in a pool with a lot of Americans who cant.