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Long-term insurance program survives Senate vote

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday turned back a Republican effort to eliminate a long-term care insurance program to help seniors and the disabled, saving the plan once championed by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in its health overhaul bill.

But the vote exposed the difficulties Democratic leaders face in persuading their own moderates to remain united behind sweeping legislation they hope to deliver to President Barack Obama. Eleven Democrats voted with all the Republicans, who warned that the new program would turn into a drain on the federal budget.

Republicans fell short in a bid to strike the long-term care plan on a 51-47 vote. They needed 60 votes to prevail. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, voted no.

Known as the CLASS Act, short for Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, the idea was pushed by Kennedy, the Massachusetts liberal who pursued the goal of health care for all for decades until his death from brain cancer in August.

In the voluntary program, workers would pay a modest monthly premium during their careers. If they become disabled, they would get a cash benefit of at least $50 a day. That can help pay for a home care attendant, for supplies and equipment, to make home improvements, or defray nursing home costs.

A version of the plan was passed by the House. The Obama administration supports it.

Supporters said the program would begin to fill a hole in the social safety net. The cost of nursing homes averages $70,000 a year, and a home care attendant runs about $29 an hour. Medicare covers only temporary nursing home stays. Middle-class households have to exhaust their savings before a senior qualifies for Medicaid nursing home coverage.

Separately, in a 57-41 vote, the Senate blocked a Republican effort to restore $120 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage, the private insurance plan that provides seniors better benefits than the traditional program. Democrats say the government is wasting money overpaying the plans.

Nelson voted no, and Sen. George LeMieux, a Republican, voted yes.

Long-term insurance program survives Senate vote 12/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 10:36pm]

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