Published in Woonsocket Call on July 26, 2015
With the graying of state’s population, Ocean State caregivers provided 124 million hours of care—worth an estimated 1.78 billion —to their parents, spouses, partners, and other adult loved ones in 2013, according to a new AARP Policy Institute’s report. The total estimated economic value of uncompensated care provided by the nation’s family caregivers surpassed total Medicaid spending ($449 billion), and nearly equaled the annual sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies combined (Apple, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Microsoft) in 2013, says the 25 page report.
AARP’s report, Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update, noted that family caregiving for relatives or close friends with chronic, disabling, or serious health problems – so they can remain in their home – is nearly universal today. In 2013, about 134,000 family caregivers in Rhode Island helped another adult loved one carry out daily activities (such as bathing or dressing, preparing meals, administering medications, driving to doctor visits, and paying bills), says the report issued on July 16.
Log on to AARP Rhode Island’s caregiving Web page (www.aarp.org/ricaregiving) to download the report as well as access information on recent caregiver legislation passed by the General Assembly and other resources: www.aarp.org/ricaregiving.
The Difficulty of Caregiving
The AARP report detailed how caregiving can impact a person’s job, finances and even their health, says the researchers. More than half (55%) of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs, says the report. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) family caregivers report a moderate (20%) to high degree (18%) of financial strain as a result of providing care. In 2014, the majority (60%) of family caregivers had full- or part-time jobs, placing competing demands on the caregivers’ time.
According to AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell, AARP’s study on caregiving affirms the state’s record as a trailblazer in the field of caregiving. In 2013, Rhode Island became just the third state to enact paid family leave, which is known as Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI). Also in 2013, Rhode Island enacted the Family Caregivers Support Act, which requires a family caregiver to receive an assessment,” she said.
Connell said that this year the Ocean State remained in the forefront of helping caregivers with passage of the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, which calls for hospitals to provide instruction to designated caregivers. Additionally, Rhode Island became the 42nd state to enact the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act. In Rhode Island, a court-appointed guardian can make important decisions across state lines.
“This new report, however, does demonstrate that we need and can do more to assist the many caregivers in our state,” said Connell. “Some of the ways we can help family caregivers include continuing efforts to improve workplace flexibility, respite care, tax credits and home care services,” she says.
Adds Charles Fogarty, Director of the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), “This study demonstrates that the backbone of long-term services and supports are family members and informal caregivers. Quantifying the hours and economic value of caregiving provided by Rhode Island families and informal caregivers raises public awareness of the impact these services have upon Rhode Island’s health system and economy. It is clear that there is a significant need to support caregivers who, at a cost to their own health and economic well-being, work to keep their family members in the community.”
DEA works with the state’s Aging Disability and Resource Centers and local nonprofits and agencies such as the RI Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Office of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Providence, local YMCAs and Adult Day Care programs, to provide programming, support groups and information to Rhode Island’s caregivers, according to Fogarty. “Rhode Island also requires that a caregiver assessment be conducted when a recipient of Medicaid-funded Home and Community Based Services has a caregiver providing support in the home,” he says.
Improving State Support for Caregiving
Although Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island acknowledges Rhode Island as being a leader with progressive laws on the books supporting caregivers, specifically the Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program, more work needs to be done.
Maigret calls for better dissemination of information to caregivers about what services and programs are available. “In this day and age we should have a robust Rhode Island specific internet site that offers caregiving information about state specific resources,” she says, noting that too often caregivers “just do not know where to turn to find out about programs like DEA’s co-pay program.” This program pays a share of the cost for home care and adult day care for low-income persons whose incomes are too high to meet Medicaid eligibility.
Rhode Island also falls short in providing subsidies to caregivers of frail low income elderly to keep them out of costly nursing homes, says Maigret, noting that the program’s funding was cut by 50 percent in 2008, creating waiting lists which have occurred over the years, It’s “short sided” to not allocate adequate resources to this program. The average annual cost of $ 1,200 per family for the caregiver subsidy program can keep a person from going on Medicaid, at far greater expense to Rhode Island taxpayers, she says.
This AARP report must not sit on a dusty shelf. It gives an early warning to Congress and to local lawmakers. As Americans [and Rhode Islanders} live longer and have fewer children, fewer family members will be available for caregiving duties. Researchers say that the ratio of potential family caregivers to the growing number of older people has already begun a steep decline. In 2010, there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person age 80 and older. By 2030, that ratio will fall sharply to 4 to 1, and is projected to drop further to 3 to 1 in 2050.
With less caregivers in the trenches providing unpaid care to keep their loved one at home, the state will have to step in to provide these programs and services – for a huge price tag to taxpayers. State lawmakers must not be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to caregiver programs. Funding should not be slashed in future budgets, rather increases might just make political sense especially to tax payers.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.