By Ami Albernaz GLOBE CORRESPONDENT SEPTEMBER 07, 2015
The value of care provided, unpaid, by family caregivers in 2013 rivaled Walmart’s sales that year, according a recent AARP Public Policy Institute report. The total value of these contributions — $470 billion — reflects approximately 37 billion hours of care, and was more than total Medicaid spending that year.
Some 40 million caregivers provided an average of 18 hours of support a week to parents, spouses, partners, and other loved ones with limitations in daily activities. A rate of $12.51 — the average estimated value of an hour of family care in the US — was used to calculate the total cost.
While these unpaid contributions are vital to reducing strain on state-funded and paid long-term services and supports, providing this care can come at a considerable cost to caregivers, the report noted. Along with struggling to balance caregiving with full- or part-time work and other family obligations, many take on demanding and complex tasks that they may be unprepared for, such as managing medications, giving injections, and operating medical equipment.
“You’ve got people who really aren’t trained engaging in critical, higher-risk activities to be helpful,” said Mike Festa, AARP state director. “While this may be satisfying and reaffirming, since caregivers help out of love, it can also be overwhelming and emotionally draining.”
Sixty percent of family caregivers work either full- or part-time jobs, the report noted. Juggling work with caregiving and other responsibilities leads some caregivers to cut back their work hours, quit their jobs, or retire early, particularly if they cannot afford to pay for outside help. A 2011 MetLife study found that caregivers age 50 and older who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose an average of $303,880 in income and benefits over their lifetime. Nearly 4 in 10 (38 percent) of caregivers report a moderate to high degree of financial strain, according to the AARP report.
In Massachusetts, around 844,000 family caregivers provided an estimated $11.6 billion in unpaid services in 2013. Most seniors who receive assistance at home rely exclusively on family caregivers, according to AARP Massachusetts.
The Commonwealth is one of 29 states and territories to have introduced the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act in state legislatures this year. Among the provisions of the act, hospitals would be required to instruct family caregivers on medical tasks like medication management, wound care, and administering injections that they would need to perform at home.
Other legislation that could help caregivers in Massachusetts includes a bill that would allow spouses to become paid personal care attendants. Currently, a MassHealth Personal Care Attendant Program allows friends, neighbors, and most family members to be paid for caregiving services, but not spouses. Legislation that would have changed this died in the House Ways and Means Committee last year. It was reintroduced this year and is still pending in the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons With Disabilities, Festa said.
“Paying spouses for caregiving services could reduce a lot of strain,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense not to pay spouses for these services, because many are cutting back on their work hours, which can make things difficult for these families.”
Ami Albernaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.