Asking 15 experts to solve a $200 billion-plus problem that has stymied federal lawmakers for decades seems challenging enough.
Add to that task a deadline of less than three months, a bitterly divided Congress and a battle-weary administration, and it's hard to imagine that the congressionally mandated Commission on Long-Term Care will succeed in its aim of developing a plan to establish, implement and finance a long-term care system by the time the panel's funding runs out Sept. 30.
Difficult but not impossible, according to experts both on and off the commission, whose creation was quietly tucked into the American Taxpayer Relief Act that Congress passed in January.
Seen by many as a consolation prize to supporters of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS—the 2010 health reform law's voluntary, long-term care system championed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy that Congress repealed in that same fiscal-cliff legislation—the commission comprises clinicians, policy experts and advocates who are long on expertise but short on time and political clout to achieve their goal.
Some members have shown confidence and optimism that they'll be able to craft some viable options by September. But even if the commission succeeds, the question then shifts to whether policymakers have the political will and interest to use the recommendations in a way that creates a long-term care system that is effective and financially solvent.
The challenge is that the money to finance long-term care for the burgeoning number of Americans who will need it in the next few decades has to come from somewhere—from government programs, private households or some combination of the two. By 2030, there will be 72.1 million people age 65 or older, more than twice their number in 2000—according to HHS estimates.
Only two months remain until Sept. 12, when the commission must vote on a blueprint that it intends to share with lawmakers. After that, the panel has an additional 30 days to finish its work, but its funding stops after Sept. 30, says Larry Atkins, president of the National Academy of Social Insurance, who was named the panel's staff director in Washington last month. And it hasn't helped matters that the panel has had such a slow start since it was created six months ago.