For 80% of people who have chronic or long-term health problems, family caregivers aren’t just a convenience but an incredible gift. Aging individuals are able to remain in their own homes, return home earlier following hospitalization, and save money as opposed to using a home care agency service or a long term care facility. There’s just one problem: while the family caregiver is taking care of the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the disabled or chronically ill individual, she is failing to take her own needs into consideration.
The Growing and Ignored Financial Cost of Family Caregivers
Unfortunately, the cost of providing care for an ailing family member adds up fast. Small, inconspicuous expenses add up without ever being considered. There’s gas for taking that family member back and forth to appointments, the cost of groceries or restaurant meals, disposable items for personal care, such as incontinence supplies, and the steadily increasing cost of healthcare. All of those expenses add up and unfortunately, the bulk of many of those expenses typically falls on the individual who has now left the workforce to care for their loved one.
The True Costs of Family Caregiving
It is estimated that in 2009 alone, family caregivers provided approximately $450 billion worth of unpaid care for their loved ones. Unfortunately, this fails to take into consideration the very real costs that the family caregiver experiences. These financial losses are unique to each individual or family, but in a broader sense may include:
- Lost wages due to time spent caring for a loved one
- Difficulty returning to the workforce as a result of time spent not working
- Reduced Social Security for individuals who are no longer contributing or who failed to contribute for a long period of time
- Increased personal health/mental health care costs as a result of stress associated with taking care of an ailing loved one
Little or No Safety Net
For many families, the cost of long-term care is being assumed by family members of the ailing individual. Medicare, although it is not dependent on one’s income, is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. If a senior requires an extended nursing home or assisted living stay, Medicare will only cover for a short rehab after which the individual will need to qualify for Medicaid in order to receive the extended care that they require. Medicaid eligibility is determined by income and asset limits set by each individual state and can be a difficult process to achieve. Many times the assistance of a Medicaid planning professional is recommended.
Medicaid can help pay for extended long-term care in a nursing home, assisted living facility and in many states, Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waiver programs will pay for home care. In most cases, Medicaid home care is provided through a home health agency, but in some states, the funding is paid in cash as part of the Cash and Counsel Program to be used towards the care of the recipient. Those funds can be paid to the caregiver of choice, including a family member. This program works exceptionally well, since it kills two birds with one stone; it helps alleviate the financial crush on the caregiver and offers the senior the best choice of care: a close family member. Regardless of what state one resides in, though, one can ultimately count on Medicaid to provide their loved one with the home care that they now require either through the care of a family member
What Can Be Done?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic fix for the current situation facing family caregivers in many states. Most critically, the family caregiver needs a tax credit or income credit that will help offset some of the financial burden of leaving the workforce. Next, there’s a drastic need for programs to take care of the caregivers. These programs will put their focus not only on the ailing individual, but on the one responsible for caring for them.
None of these issues are easy to fix, nor will the solution come quickly in all probability, but we must step up to the plate for these family caregivers soon. These heroic individuals are a vital piece of the American fabric and will be even more so into the foreseeable future.