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AARP appreciates Chairman Kennedy’s leadership and commitment to including long-term services and supports in comprehensive health care reform legislation. AARP strongly agrees that long-term services and supports must be included in any health reform package. People with disabilities and older adults need better options to help keep them independent and functioning at their highest level. Our members want to live in their homes and remain independent in their communities as long as possible. That is why expanding access to home and community-based services is one of AARP’s key health care reform priorities.

Our current welfare based Medicaid policies vary tremendously from state to state, include an institutional bias, and only assist people after they have exhausted their assets. Medicaid provides critical services for millions of people and must be improved, such as by expanding access to Medicaid home- and community-based services. At the same time, individuals also need more choices to help them pay for the services they need to live independently. Home and community-based services are also often more cost effective than institutional care, and an aim of health care reform is to assure affordable insurance coverage for everyone.

The HELP Committee’s bill includes a modified version of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS Act, S. 697/H.R. 1721), which would create a voluntary public insurance program that individuals could purchase and if they become eligible, receive a cash benefit to pay for the long-term services and supports they need to remain independent. The CLASS Act provisions would offer a generally broad-based opportunity for individuals to receive a minimum level of coverage for long-term care services and supports without having to deplete their assets or be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. These are important features, as is the cash benefit that would give enrollees choice and control over the services and supports they need. We applaud Senator Kennedy’s efforts in taking this positive step toward providing important insurance protection for individuals long-term care services and supports. We also appreciate that the program is designed to be budget-neutral. We look forward to working with Senator Kennedy, Senator Enzi, Senator Harkin and other leaders on the Committee who are committed to finding solutions that meet the needs of families and their caregivers.

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