Congress is RAISE-ing Hopes for Personalized Family Caregiving
When we talk about caregiving, it tends to sound like a one-on-one relationship between caregiver and single relative who may be afflicted with a health condition, chronic illness, or disability. That mindset is actually a carryover from the baby boom generation, which for at least two decades, was the largest population of young people the world had ever seen. As such, it was usually a single grandparent that was in need of care. But now, the baby boom generation itself is increasingly in need of care. In just six years, the first baby boomers will turn 80 years old, which is the age when most people will be in need of long-term support and services.
Due to the sheer numbers of the baby boom generation (78.3 million) as it progresses into old age, family caregiving will grow far beyond a personal issue, becoming a matter of public policy impacting economic, social, and health concerns. Since this development will affect nearly all families in the United States, it’s not only worthy of a national discussion but also legislative action spanning both government and the private sector. Due to the enormous struggles families face in terms of caring for those who need ongoing help, it’s a matter of national concern that we find solutions that will provide comprehensive support for caregiving families. Of particular concern are the burdens of time and finances.
Research tells us that financial hardship and those who require high levels of care go hand in hand. Often family caregivers are forced to cut back on work hours or leave the workforce altogether. Those who cut back on their hours not only lose income but also career opportunities as well. Social security and other retirement benefits are also put at risk.
The care gap
Currently, an estimated 40 million family caregivers provide approximately $470 billion annually in unpaid care given to adult relatives, partners, or friends who are limited in terms of their ability to perform daily living activities. Of that number, 60% must juggle work with providing and coordinating care. Approximately 18.4 million of all family caregivers must perform complicated nursing or medical tasks, including managing multiple medications with little guidance or support.
Fortunately, lawmakers are finally responding to the needs of family caregivers. In 2017, Congress introduced the bipartisan RAISE Family Caregiver’s Act (Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage), which became law in January of 2018. Its goal is to provide for the establishment and maintenance of a family caregiving strategy as well as other purposes. This act will implement the recommendation to Congress by the Federal Commission on Long-Term Care that would require the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers.
Family caregiving strategy core components
The purpose of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act is to promote a personalized approach to caregiving, which would consider both the recipient of care and the family caregiver in all health and Medicaid-managed long-term service and support settings. It will also offer recommendations regarding assessment and service planning for those receiving care and their family caregivers. These recommendations will address financial security and workplace issues, identify education and support training, as well as relief options. In addition, the strategy could assist state and community efforts in recognizing and supporting caregiving families.
A good beginning
While the RAISE act is a good first step toward recognizing and accepting that support for family caregivers is rapidly becoming central to American life, we still have a long way to go. With bold leadership and vision, support for complex care needs can become an integral part of our society. We have spent decades sowing the seeds of an unforgiving society due to the focus on youth culture that was part and parcel of the baby boom.
Now that boomers are getting older and experiencing the difficulties and inadequacies of caregiving support for themselves, it follows that allowing the private sector to run wild is not in the best interests of the constituency that both congressmen and women represent. However, more important than financial concerns, if we are to live in a humane and caring society, it’s important that we engage in our political system and encourage congress to act on our behalf with phone calls and most importantly, our vote. On the plus side, the bipartisan implementation of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act shows that our voices are being heard and help is on its way.