I’m watching the healthcare debate on T.V., with President Obama taking a very CEO-roundtable-like style to try to bring together a roomful of lawmakers to agree on a comprehensive $950 billion healthcare bill.
Obama sits at the head of a square conference table, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Lamar Alexander, John McCain and other Republican senators sit to Obama’s left. “We want a discussion, not talking points,” Obama says.
The GOP discussion is namely centered on reducing costs through program spending cuts and holding more doctors and hospitals accountable. The Democrats talk about expanding the system to cover all Americans, including low-income families and people with disabilities.
Also in the room is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who leads the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee and is an ardent supporter of people with disabilities. Harkin, a Democrat, is working to pass the Community Choice Act, which would give people with long-term disabilities the opportunity to remain in their homes and communities rather than have to go into a nursing home.
As it stands now, state Medicaid programs (designed for low-income and people with disabilities) will pay for nursing home but not in-home personal care. Currently, individuals seeking in-home care must apply through a waiver program — but there’s a long waiting line.
Ultimately, a Community Choice Act law is probably too expensive to pass given the need to appease Republican’s cries on holding down costs. The Act is estimated to cost between $2 billion to $4 billion a year. Nor was disability even mentioned in Obama’s recent State of the Union speech.
However, Harkin is working on an other bill that does have a chance, even if cloudy: The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which was sponsored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The CLASS Act 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. Democrats see this as a way for middle-class families to plan ahead for a disability or a chronic illness, like cancer.
All of the above is just gravy, really, because without overarching healthcare reform then million of Americans, including those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions like cancer, epilepsy or diabetes, may be turned away by insurance companies. And that’s a fact, not a talking point.