During an appearance on WBUR’s On Point this morning, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) celebrated the demise of CLASS, the Affordable Care Act’s long-term care insurance program, and boasted that he is “one of the 7 million” Americans enrolled in a private long-term insurance program. But as Howard Gleckman, a resident fellow at the Urban Institute, pointed out, very few individuals can afford long-term policies and often deplete their personal savings in order to qualify for coverage available through Medicaid. “Congressman Burgess bought a long-term care insurance policy,” Gleckman observed. “With all respect, he’s a physician. His income was probably quite a bit higher than the average American. Long-term insurance premiums are about $2,000 a year. Most people can’t afford it.”
“This is just something that you budget for,” Burgress responded and claimed that the government can encourage the purchase of private long-term care insurance through tax credits. He also speculated that “the same type of premium would have been paid by people in the CLASS.” “The loss of this does not trouble me at all,” he added.
But when a listener from Massachusetts highlighted the inadequacy of the private market — an insurance company increased his premiums by 70 percent — Burgess appeared caught off guard. He reiterated his claim that CLASS was unsustainable and urged listeners to purchase private health insurance sooner. Listen to the exchange:
Judy Feder, a former senior fellow at CAP who is now with the Urban Institute, also added that private insurers were already abandoning the long-term care market and characterized Burgess’ tax credit solution as “support for the rich.” “The tax benefit benefits the high income population and is likely simply to replace some of the dollars that better-off people are is already paying in premiums,” Feder explained. “What a government program, even a limited one offers, is an opportunity to put government behind an education, a marketing effort. It can actually support the purchase of private long-term care insurance alongside a modest public benefit,” she said.
Feder expressed frustration with the government’s decision to bandon CLASS and argued that the Affordable Care Act provided HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with sufficient flexibility to ensure that the program can remain sustainable over the next 75 years. Gleckman suggested that administration lawyers seemed overly concerned that some of the Secretary’s authority could be challenged in court. Listen to the whole program here.