Speaking before a crowd on Capitol Hill, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said expanding federal benefits for people with disabilities is “a civil rights issue.” The senator, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, is also the sponsor of the Community Choice Act, one of two proposals introduced this year that that would significantly expand federal assistance for people in need of long-term care.
Harkin and other advocates of the measures are folding their efforts into President Obama’s push for health-care reform. At issue is the government-funded Medicaid program, which serve the disabled and elderly. The Community Choice Act would reform Medicaid to give recipients eligible for institutional-level care the choice of receiving in-home or community-based assistance rather than nursing home care. Currently, individuals seeking in-home care must apply through a waiver program — but there’s a long waiting line.
HELP Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has sponsored a second bill, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act. This measure would create a new, nationwide disability insurance program, financed through payroll deductions, with opt-out enrollment at a cost of around $65 a month for most Americans.
President Obama has said he’s supportive of expanding benefits for the disabled as the White House continues to work on its massive health reform bill. But he has toned down his original support for the Community Choice Act as he seeks to find new ways to curb skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid costs. The Act is estimated to cost between $2 billion to $4 billion a year.