Sebelius Assured Congress She Could Fix ObamaCare's CLASS Act. HHS's Proposed Legislative Fix Suggests She Believed Otherwise.


Sebelius would like to thank all the little people who made this possible.

At a February hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured lawmakers that she had the necessary administrative authority to fix the Community Living Assistance Service and Supports (CLASS) Act, the long term care benefit program attached to ObamaCare that even Sebelius now admits is "totally unsustainable." As James Capretta put it, Sebelius was asserting that "she has the administrative flexibility to essentially rewrite the program herself from scratch, with no input or changes necessary from lawmakers."

But she can't have been all that confident. Internal HHS documents revealed today by GOP congressional investigators reveal that the health agency was working on a legislative update to the CLASS act back in January. The goal of many of the proposed fixes? To give the HHS Secretary additional authority to modify the program—in particular, to modify its premiums. 

Back in May, Avik Roy pointed out in Forbes that the Congressional Research Service indicated that Sebelius did not in fact have the necessary administrative authority to rework the program. So it's not exactly surprising. But it does fit into a pattern of strategic obfuscation when it comes to the program. 

Here's what we now know about the CLASS Act: Democrats took advantage of the Congressional Budget Office's decade-long budget window to argue that the program reduces the deficit. Which it does, but only over the next decade. If enacted as written, it will add to the deficit in the long term. CLASS was billed as fiscally self-sustaining, but it's not. The administration now admits that they determined after the law's passage that it's not sustainable, but in fact, Democratic supporters of the program were clearly warned by government actuaries nearly a year before the law passed that the program looked like "a recipe for disaster." And now it seems that even as Sebelius was assuring members of Congress that she already had the authority to reform the program as she pleased, her agency was drafting multi-part legislative fixes designed to give her the authority they knew she lacked. 

And it's all part of a trillion-dollar health care overhaul that administration officials insisted was "an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability."