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Friday, November 18, 2011

Celebrate National Caregivers Month

Caety Chong

Staff Writer

November is National Caregivers Month—a time to recognize and celebrate caregivers for their important role in our lives.  There are professional caregivers,  but there are also about 52 million unpaid caregivers—spouses, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and others who take care of loved ones in the home.

For these informal caregivers, caregiving can take a physical and financial toll—caregivers are often too busy taking care of others to take care of themselves. The typical caregiver will lose $110 in wages and benefits a day, postpone their own medical care, and also cut back on household spending

Professional caregivers are trained and paid for their work. But oftentimes, their wages are low, they receive few benefits, and many don’t even get paid sick leave. Those who we entrust to care for our parents and children deserve to get the care they need to stay healthy themselves. Low pay and poor benefits are major reasons that, in many areas, there are not enough professional caregivers. This workforce shortage means a greater burden for the children, spouses, and family or friends of those who need care. And sometimes it means that people can’t get the help they need to keep living at home so they have move to a nursing home—a move that can cost more in the long run.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are programs to build our long-term care workforce. There are also new programs to encourage states to expand home- and community-based assistance to people who are eligible for long-term services in Medicaid.

Almost 79 percent of people who need long-term care live at home or in a community setting, and Medicaid is the major payer for all long-term care in the U.S.  Medicare doesn’t cover most of what we think of as long-term care and, because care is very expensive—home care can easily cost $20,000 a year and annual nursing home costs average more than $70,000—many exhaust their finances to the point that they qualify for Medicaid. 

Medicaid doesn’t just help the people who need care. The program also helps many of the 52 million informal caregivers. The services that Medicaid provides, such as home health aides and respite care that helps family members take a break, reduce the strain of caregiving.

For a strong long-term care system and better support for caregivers we need to keep Medicaid strong and to implement the Affordable Care Act.  Cutting Medicaid would put long-term care services for millions at risk. Failing to implement the Affordable Care Act would endanger provisions that will help states build their Medicaid home care programs and help build the long-term care workforce we’ll need in the years to come. That wouldn’t be good for people who need care or the caregivers who help them.