Updated: May 10
Congress has been roundly criticized for its lack of ability to pass legislation.
Yet it now has a golden opportunity to pass a commonsense bipartisan bill to help address the challenges family caregivers face.
Last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage, (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act (S. 1028). The thrust of the measure is to develop a coordinated strategy to support family caregivers that would engage the private and public sectors.
The Senate version of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act was sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. and Reps. Gregg Harper, R-Miss. and Kathy Castor, D-Fla. sponsored the bill (H.R. 3759) in the House.
The importance of the 40 million Americans who help care for loved ones – and the moral and fiscal importance of supporting them – cannot be underestimated. Nor can the importance of enacting the RAISE Family Caregivers Act.
Aging in place at home is a far less expensive alternative than a nursing home. In many cases that’s only made possible by family caregiver help with bathing, dressing, transportation, meals, and more, along with vital medical tasks from managing medications to giving injections and providing wound care.
The moral imperative of caring for a loved one is obvious. The hard dollar value of such care often isn’t.
It’s estimated that the value of unpaid care provided by this silent army of family caregivers is $470 billion a year.
By way of comparison, that roughly equals the annual sales of IBM, Hewlett Packard, Apple and Microsoft in 2013-2014. Combined.
The equation here is simple: If that $470 billion in care didn’t exist, either the care wouldn’t exist or the taxpayers could be picking up the tab to provide it. A look at America’s demographics show a level of urgency on this issue that might escape most Americans.
On one hand we’re aging as a nation, with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day (with up to 90 percent of that cohort dealing with one or more chronic health conditions). The fastest growing segment of the population is Americans 85 and older; that’s the segment most at risk for multiple and interacting health problems requiring higher levels of care.
On the flip side, we’re running low on family caregivers. In 2010 there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every American 80 and older. That’s expected to drop to 4 to 1 in by 2030 and 3 to 1 by 2050.
Caregivers are going to need more help.
They already need more help. Caring for a loved one is the right thing to do, and it’s rewarding, but it often comes at a cost to the caregiver including through elevated levels of stress and health problems of their own, particularly a greater incidence of chronic conditions like depression, cancer and heart disease.
Here’s how the RAISE Family Caregivers Act will help: It calls for bringing together private and public sector voices to recommend action steps via an advisory council formed under the bill.
The council would include veterans, family caregivers, social service and health providers and employers, among others. It would help identify actions already being taken or that ought to be taken to recognize and support family caregivers, related to:
• Promoting greater adoption of person-and family-centered care in all health and other settings, with the person and the family caregiver (as appropriate) at the center of care teams; • Assessment and service planning (including care transitions and coordination) involving care recipients and family caregivers; • Information, education, training supports, referral, and care coordination; • Respite options; • Financial security and workplace issues.
The unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate sends a strong message to the House, where the legislation is pending in the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Another North Carolinian, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, said “The unanimous Senate vote sends a clear and strong signal that supporting caregivers is an urgent national priority, especially as we experience the effects of an aging population, better understand the unique needs of our wounded warriors, and recognize the drastic personal, financial, and health challenges of caregiving. (The Senate) vote signals that help is on the way, and that the work caregivers do day in and day out for their loved ones is critically important.
“Now it’s time for the House of Representatives to act, and I call on them to pass this legislation before the end of the year.
“The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is proud to have joined with more than 60 national organizations in supporting this important legislation.”
This is a nonpartisan issue that affects families across the country.
And it’s a legislative accomplishment waiting to happen. The sooner, the better.