CLASS is Out

Recently I wrote a blog posting entitled “Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street” and, in rereading this piece, it struck me that the most important part of my earlier message was the part where I express my hope that the Occupy Wall Street movement ultimately results in a society that promotes “accountability of all those in power”. This week we saw another striking example of why this objective is so desperately important.

Specifically, I am talking about the Obama administration’s telling abandonment in implementing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which was part of his overall healthcare reform package.  By way of background, the CLASS Act was to be a voluntary, long-term care insurance program promoted by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.  Like other types of insurance, the CLASS Act was intended to create an insurance program for individuals to pay into a pool and at some point in the future participants could draw benefits to supplement long-term care, whether community-based or institutional.  Obviously the CLASS Act would primarily assist working people.  In complement of the CLASS Act was another piece of legislation called the Community Choice Act, which intends to eliminate the current institutional bias favoring nursing homes and institutions under Medicaid.

Clearly the CLASS Act and the Community Choice Act are related and should have been included in the omnibus health care reform legislation together.  In fact, during the 2008 presidential campaign, the then Sen. Obama specifically mentioned the imperative of the Community Choice Act with a video message explaining his disability platform.  On a personal note, it was this very commitment by Sen. Obama which made me support his candidacy.  There were many people like myself who took this as a strong endorsement of the civil rights of Americans with disabilities; in essence, a promise to support our freedom.  For the first time the disability community felt that there was someone on the way to Washington who would be working on our behalf. 

In the now famous Martin Luther King, Jr.I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King speaks about the national obligation to fulfill a “promissory note” to the African American community.  In a direct parallel, President Obama has given a “promissory note” to the disability community to advance our civil rights to live in the mainstream community and has so far defaulted.  There were thousands of people that worked tirelessly to get Pres. Obama elected, largely as a result of his very public support for the Community Choice Act.  Yet, with the sausage making/health care reform negotiations of 2009-10, the needs of our community were once again forgotten. 

For me, it is not so much the abandonment of the CLASS Act that is indicative of the systemic betrayal to the disability community but rather, it was Pres. Obama’s failure to include and fight for the Community Choice Act that rubs me the wrong way.  From the beginning, I thought that the CLASS Act was a distraction and not that great an idea.  The CLASS Act was nothing more than tinkering around the edges.  Real health care reform needs to include community-based, long-term care services as part of the social contract.  Holding Pres. Obama and all other politicians accountable for this omission is one reason will will why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement.