In the next few weeks, the Senate should finalize legislation to reform America’s health care system. Although around 48 million Americans don’t have medical insurance, more than 250 million have no insurance protection for the costs of long-term-care. This is why advocacy groups representing the elderly and those with special needs are pressing for the inclusion of long-term care services and supports in any legislation.

The Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees are scheduled to finalize their legislative proposals for health care reform within the next two to three weeks (mid-May to early June, 2009). The bills are expected to be merged on the Senate floor in June 2009. Three House committees are also developing their own legislation, but are not as far along as the Senate.

Advocacy groups, such as the Disability Policy Collaborative and the Autism Society of America, are calling for an end to Medicaid’s institutional bias, which denies America’s frail elderly and individuals with special needs an equal choice for home and community services over institutionalization. They point out that hundreds of thousands of individuals are on waiting lists for Medicaid home and community-based services.

The groups are urging passage of two pieces of legislation in particular:

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (S. 1758), which would create a national program under which an individual paying premiums to the federal government would be eligible for a daily cash benefit ranging from $50 to $100, to pay for “home modifications, assistive technology, accessible transportation, homemaker services, respite care, personal assistance services, and home care aides”; and

The Community Choice Act of 2007 (S. 799), which would provide individuals with disabilities and older Americans with equal access to community-based attendant services and supports.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who introduced the CLASS Act, has declared that he will not assist in the movement of a health reform bill that does not include long-term care coverage.

The advocacy groups are urging concerned citizens to contact their senators to show public backing for making long-term care a part of health care reform.