- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2011

President Obama is clinging fiercely to a key part of his new health care law, with the White House on Monday saying he opposes efforts to repeal the CLASS Act — even though his administration said Friday it would suspend the new entitlement indefinitely.

Admitting last week that the long-term care program for the elderly and infirm wouldn’t pay for itself in the long term, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said her agency couldn’t find a sustainable path forward for CLASS, which initially was supposed to help finance Mr. Obama’s 2010 health care bill.

But the White House said that doesn’t mean the program should be stricken from the books.

“We do not support repeal,” said spokesman Nick Papas. “Repealing the CLASS Act isn’t necessary or productive. What we should be doing is working together to address the long-term care challenges we face in this country.”

The next step is up to Congress, which could vote to do away with the program, restructure it or leave it in limbo. Critical of CLASS since before the Affordable Care Act even was passed, Republicans had already led a repeal effort that gained some bipartisan traction in the Senate - though not enough to pass.

Repeal is easier with a decision by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday to treat CLASS as having no impact on the budget, ignoring the $86 billion it was estimated to bring in over nine years when the health care law was scored.

Previously, lawmakers seeking to repeal CLASS would have been required to find funding to offset the lost revenue. With that requirement removed, it could be easier for the politically divided chambers to reach consensus on what to do with the program.

A repeal bill brought by Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, fell short by nine votes in the spring, gathering the support of 12 Democrats. Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, is sponsoring the bill in the House.

Mr. Thune seized on the CBO’s announcement on Monday, calling the CLASS Act revenues “phony savings.”

“This announcement confirms what many of us have stated all along, that repealing this costly program would not cost taxpayers money, but in fact, save money as the program would likely require a taxpayer bailout in future years,” Mr. Thune said.

The CLASS program was designed to offer continuing care coverage to seniors and others in need of in-home services. For a monthly premium, beneficiaries would receive daily cash benefits of at least $50.

Mrs. Sebelius’ announcement came about a month after Republicans asked her to explain her plans for the program, after a former HHS employee said staff in the CLASS office had been reassigned. Democrats also have called the program into question, with Mr. Obama’s 2010 deficit-reduction commission recommending that the program be reformed or repealed.

• Paige Winfield Cunningham can be reached at pcunningham@washingtontimes.com.

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