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by Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
Many family caregivers will tell you that coping with the stress of providing care to loved ones, is made more difficult when they are forced to navigate the confusing federal bureaucracy to identify key financial and health care programs for support. Last week, S 3109, the Alleviating Barriers for Caregivers (ABC) Act, was thrown into the legislative hopper to make it easier for more than 48 million family caregivers to obtain this information. The Senate caregiver proposal was referred to the Senate Finance Committee and no House companion measure has been introduced at press time.
On Oct. 24, the bipartisan Senate proposal was introduced by Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and is co-sponsored by Senators Kyrsten Sinema, (I-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). The proposal would require the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Commissioner of Social Security to review and simplify the processes, procedures, forms, and communications for family caregivers to assist individuals in establishing eligibility for, enrolling in, and maintaining and utilizing coverage and benefits under the Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and Social Security programs respectively, and for other purposes. The agencies must conduct a review and seek input from family caregivers prior to taking actions that would improve their experiences coordinating care for their loved ones.
Currently, more than 48 million family caregivers in the U.S. help take care of loved ones. According to AARP and the National Alliance for caregiving’s Caregiving in the U.S. report, caregivers provide support ranging from selecting the best providers; coordinating multiple health and long-term care providers; navigating the care system; advocating with providers, community services, and government agencies; and managing medications, complex medical tasks, meals, finances, and more.
According to AARP, most caregivers say additional information and support for managing these needs is essential. One in four family caregivers (25%) report they want help figuring out forms, paperwork, and eligibility for services and 26% say that it is difficult to coordinate care across various providers and services. While most (61%) work full- or part-time, and some also care for children, family caregivers spend almost 24 hours a week caring for a loved one on average, says the Washington, DC-based advocacy group.
Personal caregiving experiences leads to calls for caregiver assistance
Being family caregivers, both Senators Markey and Capito, primary sponsors of S 3109, like many caregivers, encountered red tape when they attempted to find needed federal caregiving programs and services to care for their parents.
“When my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s, my father was her caregiver in our home in Malden,” remembers Senator Markey. “Caregivers serve on the frontlines of our nation’s health care system by giving our families and friends the care and support they need to remain in their homes and communities with their loved ones. However, our aging and disabled community members can’t get the care they need if their caregivers – the backbone of their treatment – are struggling to navigate complex, burdensome, and stressful processes each and every day while also still managing day-to-day family and professional responsibilities.
“As a caregiver for my parents during their struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, I know personally the level of responsibility put on family caregivers and the burdens, which can be created by federal process and procedure,” said Senator Capito. “Caregivers in West Virginia and across our country put family first and balance multiple priorities at once, which is why we must do all we can to alleviate roadblocks that could delay and even prohibit them from receiving the support they need,” she said.
Calls for upper Chamber to pass caregiver proposal
At press time, 32 national aging and health care strongly support passage of S 3109.
“Family caregivers are the backbone of our nation’s long-term care system, and they are overwhelmed with their responsibilities and time spent managing their loved one’s care,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “The Alleviating Barriers for Caregivers Act could help save family caregivers valuable time and reduce their stress by making it easier to navigate resources, eligibility, benefits, and health systems when providing care, she says.
“Our concern is that these federal caregiver programs are so complicated, they become virtually inaccessible, discouraging family and friends from providing caregiving services. The ABC Act is the first step to holding CMS and SSA accountable for eliminating these barriers to caregiving so people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can live their lives in the community,” said Robin Troutman, Deputy Director at National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.
“The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) supports the Alleviating Barriers for Caregivers Act. Far too often family caregivers are faced with burdensome administrative obstacles in accessing the resources and supports to which they’re due. As system fragmentation is a significant component of caregiver strain, we commend this important first step to better streamline, simplify, and coordinate access across federal programs, said Dr. Jennifer Olsen, CEO of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.
“Being a caregiver to someone living with Alzheimer’s is already an incredibly difficult and emotionally draining job. When you layer on top of it the daunting task of navigating our country’s complex healthcare coverage system, it can become downright overwhelming for even the smartest person. This bill is an important step toward making it easier for caregivers to fully advocate on behalf of their loved ones to ensure they have access to the diagnostic, pharmaceutical, and treatment services they need, said George Vradenburg, Chair and Co-founder of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.
Congress must come together to support caregivers
Family caregivers across the national provide 36 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at an estimated $600 billion annually. In the Ocean State, 121,000 family caregivers provide 113 million hours of unpaid care valued to be 2.1 billion. These caregivers need assistance from Congress to access resources to provide care to their loved ones.
There is 372 days left until the 2024 president elections. AARP research tells us that a majority of voters, 78%, are either a current, past, or future family caregiver. Over 70% of voters across the political spectrum say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backed proposals to support family caregivers, such as a tax credit, paid family leave, and more support and respite services.
Hopefully, more Senators will see the value of S. 3109 and quickly become cosigners. It’s time the newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and his caucus put the need of their caregiver constituents first, over their political priorities, and support passage of a House companion measure. The House Problem Solvers Caucus can be instrumental in pushing for the introduction and passage. Time will tell.
For more information about caregiving, go to www.aarp.org/caregiving.
For a copy of the 2022National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers, go to https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/RAISE_SGRG/NatlStrategyToSupportFamilyCaregivers.pdf
To read other columns by Herb Weiss, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/?s=herb+weiss
Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to herbweiss.com.
Great to see attention to this important issue,