Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Economic Downturn , Family Caregivers and Long Term Services

I ran across an article in the NY Times this morning about family caregivers and the effects of the economic downturn in those situations. Whether a person is caring for a senior, a child with a disability or other family member, the downturn hits these families particularly hard because they are trying to balance work and family based on the needs involved. Many have already sacrificed financially to do so , giving up full time jobs for part time work or walking away from the work force to meet their commitments.

In addition, government programs which supplement the help family members provide are facing cuts. Besides lost wages, there are also the out of pocket costs of being a caregiver, which average $5500 a year. (This would include travel expenses, such as gas and meals, hotels, purchasing care items, etc.)

The article discusses several situations facing families and raises quite a few issues that affect the debates we are having about our health care system, including long term care options. Under our present system, family members in their 50's who are caring for an aging parent, for example, and working fewer hours, then face the prospect of financial problems themselves when they become seniors. Because of their sacrifice, they have earned less and will receive a small monthly amount of Social Security benefits, with no retirement package a full time job offers. This will then put them in the same position, needing care without resources, perpetuating the problem.

Rather than cutting programs which provide supplemental help, we need to find ways to channel resources toward these families. As seniors live longer, it makes financial sense to make it easier for them to receive ongoing care, when it becomes necessary, in their homes. Those with disabilities who are advocating for the Community Choice Act (which would end the institutional bias of Medicaid funds) already realize, at a younger age, what issues face people when care is necessary. Our all -or-nothing approach of forcing people into nursing homes no longer works and is costing us too much. The option of using private care agencies with a family's income often exceeds the income a family caregiver can earn. We need to take a step back now and see the bigger picture with this issue.

When an individual requires assistance with meals, bathing and other activities of daily living, programs can be devised that are cost efficient, but only if we begin to face the reality that the need is only going to get greater as baby boomers age.

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