More than a dozen members of Congress representing both chambers on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (PDF) demanding more information on the Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) Act after noting they learned HHS plans to shut down the CLASS office.
Lawmakers question Sebelius about CLASS Act in wake of plans to close office
“Today we received information that the HHS Administration on Aging is effectively closing the CLASS office, and that all of the office's employees have been reassigned or asked to leave,” said the 10-page letter from federal lawmakers, including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. “These developments raise important questions about the future of the CLASS program as well as whether the public has been fully informed about the Administration's views on this costly program.”
In a blog posting Thursday, the Senate Republican Policy Committee cited part of an e-mail message from Bob Yee, actuary of the CLASS office, that said Yee would be leaving his position because “HHS has decided to close down the CLASS office effective tomorrow.”
HHS—which did not confirm or deny Yee's pending departure—issued the following statement, which also highlighted the agency's ambivalence about the program's future: “While the staff of the CLASS office has been reduced, reports that the CLASS office is closing are not accurate,” the statement said. “We are continuing our analysis of this program. As we have said in the past, it is an open question whether the program will be implemented," the statement continued. "A CLASS program will only be implemented if it is fiscally solvent, self-sustaining, and consistent with the statute,” it said, referring to last year's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The CLASS Act has been the subject of much criticism and a target of House Republicans, who held a hearing about the program in March. At that time, House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) cited HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's comments at a mid-February Senate hearing in which she called the program “totally unsustainable.” Financed through enrollee premiums, the CLASS Act program collects premiums from participants for five years before paying out any benefits.
Also Thursday, the Senate Republican Policy Committee noted that Senate Democrats this week recommended no funding for CLASS next year in their fiscal year 2012 Labor-HHS appropriations measure, which rejects the Obama Administration's $120 million request in its fiscal year 2012 budget.
Advocates of the program, however, say they will continue working with the administration to implement CLASS.
“There is no other solution on the table right now to solve the crisis of paying for long-term services and supports,” Larry Minnix, CEO of Leading Age, which represents more than 5,400 organizations that offer housing and community-based options including home health, hospice, senior housing and assisted-living services. “Today's pressures on both Medicare and Medicaid make the CLASS Act all the more important to help families and the government reduce the costs of care.”
In their letter, federal lawmakers asked Sebelius more than two dozen questions and have requested that HHS submit all information and documents by no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 6.
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