Reality-based governing

Concerns about implementation of health reform’s Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act — better known as the CLASS Act — aren’t exactly new. The costs and structure of the program have been lingering for quite a while.

It was not, then, a huge surprise when the Obama administration announced a couple of days ago that the CLASS Act was being scrapped. As Sarah Kliff explained the other day:

There has always been concern about the CLASS program’s long-term stability. The long-term insurance program relies on voluntary enrollment. If only a small group of unhealthy people — those who anticipate using the services — sign up, the program could quickly destabilize.

An actuarial review that Health and Human Services has just released confirms those fears: The administration could not design a long-term care program that would both hew to the health reform law — which requires that CLASS beneficiaries receive a minimum of $50 in benefits per day — and make the program actuarially sound.

For the right, this is cause to rejoice. Not only do conservatives get to gloat — some of the questions about the CLASS Act’s structural viability were raised by Republicans — but they also get to see a bunch of headlines about the elimination of part of the Affordable Care Act.

But how this happened matters. Kevin Drum had a sharp post on this yesterday, explaining that the process that led officials to scrap the program is an example of government working “exactly the way it ought to.”

The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals (it was one of Ted Kennedy’s longstanding priorities), and the Department of Health and Human Services immediately began the detailed work of writing the implementing regulations to get it up and running. And guess what? They did their work honestly and conscientiously. Even though it was a liberal program promoted by a longtime liberal icon, HHS analysts eventually concluded that its conservative critics were right and the program as passed was flawed. So they killed it. And most of the liberal healthcare wonks that I read seem to agree that, unfortunately, HHS was right.

This is how we all want government to work. And it turns out that Obama agrees. This is apparently how he wants government to work too, and it’s a pretty clear demonstration that Obama isn’t the kind of hyperpartisan extreme lefty that conservatives like to paint him as.

Good point. The administration didn’t cook the books and tweak the numbers to mold reality into something more ideologically-pleasing; officials took a good-faith look at the figures and decided the CLASS Act just wasn’t going to work. They didn’t play games or rewrite reports to fit a political agenda; they didn’t think about how this would play in the media; they identified a problematic program and eliminated it.

Republican governance has a model: start with the answer and work backwards to ensure a partisan result. The review process that led to the CLASS Act’s demise seems like a smarter and more responsible way to go.