CAU Executive Speaks In Favor Of CLASS Act

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ELIZABETH – Mercedes Witowsky, associate executive director of Community Access Unlimited, recently spoke at a national forum on long-term services and support for people with disabilities in Washington, D.C.

The forum provided an overview of home and community-based support programs and options for people with functional disabilities; the role of Medicaid in these programs; and the expected impact of the CLASS Act (Community Living Assistance Services and Support), which is part of the Affordable Health Care for America Act enacted last year.

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The CLASS Act establishes a national, voluntary insurance program that allows working adults to purchase community living services and supports should they become functionally disabled and require long-term care, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  The CLASS program became effective January 1 and HHS is expected to define benefits by October 2012 and begin enrollment thereafter.

The CLASS Act will address a major and growing problem in the United States, where 10 million Americans require long-term support services.  According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that number will grow to 15 million by 2020, at which time one in every six Americans reaching the age of 65 will spend more than $100,000 on long-term care.

Proponents of the program say it will provide an option to expensive and hard to find private long-term care insurance; reverse the trend of families gutting their personal finances supporting functionally disabled loved ones only to become depended on Medicaid; and ease the resultant growing burden on Medicaid.  In addition, as the program will provide benefits directly to the insured, it will offer them greater flexibility in defining their own care.

Perhaps none of the panelists who spoke at the forum were more qualified to address the topic of caring for a loved one with a disability and the impact of that care on a family and its finances than Witowsky, whose daughter suffered a massive stoke at 16.  Now 21, Witowsky’s daughter – who attends school – relies heavily on Medicaid for her daily support services, which enables her mother to work full time and support her two children.

Yet as a social services veteran of 28 years who sees first hand how stressful long-term care can be on individuals and families – both emotionally and financially – Witowsky welcomes the CLASS Act and other improvements to the long-term services and support infrastructure.

“It’s a long overdue national mechanism that we can use to plan for the future,” Witowsky told the audience.

Other panelists at the forum included Jhamirah Howard, policy analyst for the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured; Molly O’Malley Watts, principal consultant, Watts Health Policy Consulting, LLC; Barbara Edwards, director of disabled and elderly health programs group at the Center for Medicaid, CHIP and Survey & Certification Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); John McCarthy, Medicaid director of Ohio health plans at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Mercedes Witowsky (left), associate executive director of Community Access Unlimited in New Jersey, recently spoke at a national forum on long-term services and support for people with disabilities, hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C. Also attending were Connie Garner (center), executive director, Advance CLASS, and Barbara Edwards, director of CMS Disabled and Elderly Health Program Groups. (Photo courtesy of Community Access Unlimited)


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